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Southeast Alaska News
Stephen Courtright teaches music at the state-run boarding school. He says helping make policy for local schools is a way to contribute to the community, and bring in a teacher’s perspective.
Additional municipal election coverage on Raven Radio:
School Board candidate profiles:
LIVE candidate call-in forums on Raven Radio:
School Board – Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Assembly – Thursday, September 26, 2013.
No one twisted Stephen Courtright’s arm to make him run for school board. And it’s not about grinding an axe over one school policy or another.
“This is mostly a matter of walking the talk.”
Like many candidates, the 31-year-old teacher and part-time bartender simply decided to turn thought into action.
“I’m one of those people who frequently says, Somebody should be doing this. I think somebody should be representing this, or speaking out about these issues. And there came a point when I realized that somebody might be me.”
That Courtright teaches at Mt. Edgecumbe adds another dimension to his campaign. The boarding school is run by the state Department of Education, and not the local school board. He jokes that he has many friends who work for Sitka’s public schools, and that he wouldn’t mind setting policy for them. But those policies would not apply to him.
Courtright says it’s his work — rather than his workplace — that voters should consider.
“There are things that I would like to see happen at Mt. Edgecumbe, that I don’t have the power to make happen. But that’s neither here nor there when it comes to the Sitka School District. I believe that it’s every member of the community’s responsibility to ensure that the public schools stay at the highest caliber possible. And I do believe that, as a professional educator — someone who’s trained to know what’s happening in the classroom — I have a unique perspective that currently isn’t represented on the board.”
Courtright has two young children, ages 4 and 7, just beginning their school careers. As all parents of children farther along in the system know, a free public education begins to cost more and more, as students become involved in activities.
The policy in Sitka has been to educate the whole child. Even faced with declining enrollment and shrinking budget, Sitka Schools have parted with few activities programs — and even added some. Courtright questions this approach.
“It seems to me that if you’ve got difficulty making ends meet, spreading thinner isn’t always the best solution.”
Two of the most recent programs adopted by the district are high school soccer and football. Courtright calls them “high ticket” but doesn’t single them out as being the only expensive activities. He’s worried that a tiered system is evolving in the schools, that allows only the better-off students access to some programs.
“I think we should ensure that every student should have an opportunity. We shouldn’t be making it so that only students who can afford to, will be able to participate in varsity sports. I don’t think pay-to-play sports are the way to go. If we can’t afford for every student to participate and travel, maybe we shouldn’t have that team.”
Or, Courtright says, the schools should create a mechanism for less affluent students to participate. Possibly a funding pool, similar to the free and reduced school lunch program. His preference, though, is for full funding of whatever activities the district does offer.
And funding remains one of the district’s biggest challenges. Some key legislative assignments last year went to freshmen representatives who have questioned the public education model. Courtright says the schools still have important friends, like Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins and Bert Stedman who have helped organize regional political coalitions. He says Sitka’s school board should step to the plate.
“We do need to be able to play political hardball. We’re the little guys and the big guys are all coming from the railbelt now. It’s not an easy situation for us, being on an island that nobody likes to think about. The majority of them see us as this little blue outpost of cruise ship dollars, and they don’t really think of us as in need of money and help, but here we are and yes we are.”
Courtright is challenging a two-term incumbent for a seat on the board. But he’s quick to say that this election is not about removing Lon Garrison. The two are close on things like the role of public schools and educating the whole child. Their differences, so far, have to do with the role of the superintendent, and technology in schools. On this latter issue, Courtright favors more targeted purchases — like iPads — for the classrooms and teachers who want them.
The district’s recent history, though, has been to make sweeping technology purchases like Promethean Boards, and hope teachers adopt them. Courtright believes this is a symptom of top-down decision-making, and candidate like him is the cure.
“I think the biggest issue in general is that there’s too much policy being made at every level without the involvement of the people who are in the classroom.”
The municipal election is Tuesday, October 1.
ANCHORAGE — Same-sex partners of state employees will be considered as immediate family under action taken Thursday by the Alaska State Personnel Board.
The board adopted new wording in regulations that allows state employees to take leave due to a serious health condition involving a same-sex partner and include same-sex partners in the definition of immediate family for that purpose.
FLAGSTAFF — Native American women seeking emergency contraception at Indian Health Services facilities managed by the federal government now can get it without a consultation or prescription.
Beavers and jet skis surprised four adventurers on their recent attempt to row through the Northwest Passage. Vancouver, British Columbia residents Kevin Vallely, Paul Gleeson, Frank Wolf and Denis Barnett are now back home after the team stopped short of its goal of gliding through the northern waterway on muscle power.
The State of Alaska should concentrate its efforts on a liquefied natural gas line through Southcentral and it shouldn’t involve TransCanada, former Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski said during a Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday.
TransCanada is working with ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips on the large capacity gas line project created under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. TransCanada and ExxonMobil were the original partners under AGIA, which included $500 million in state funding to advance the pipeline originally planned to reach Alberta.
The Southeast Conference wants to change the way the Tongass National Forest is managed.
The regional development-advocacy organization is developing a strategy to grow the timber industry and create jobs, while maintaining environmental protections. It announced the plans at its annual meeting Sept. 17-18 in Sitka.
Conference leaders say the U.S. Forest Service is failing to do its job.
That, in the organization’s view, is to sell enough timber to support a strong, regional, wood-products industry.
“We’re trying to open up the landscape to a management strategy that is changing over time,” says Shelly Wright, executive director of the Southeast Conference, which is made up of business, government and tribal leaders, as well as interested individuals.
“Rather than set aside a big chunk for logging and a big chunk for no logging, open up all of the regulated set-asides and use it as a flexible forest,” she says.
National monuments, designated wilderness and some other protected areas would stay the same. Buffer zones would still be required near beaches, streams and rivers.
But Wright says many other parts of the Tongass would be open for multiple – and sometimes changing – uses.
“A stand of trees doesn’t have to be 150 years old to be habitat. Different habitat is good for different times of year and different kinds of animals. So we want them to … actively manage and monitor all parts of the forest for habitat and economic development,” she says.
“I think they’re looking backwards to recreate the glory days of timber on the Tongass, which unfortunately are over,” says Andrew Thoms, executive director of the Sitka Conservation Society, which has been part of the forest management debate.
“The Tongass produced a record number of salmon this past year that created a ton of jobs and a ton of economic activity from the fisheries. I think that the Southeast Conference wants to ignore the fact that all these salmon come from the forest and that they’re produced because of the protections that we have on the salmon streams,” he says.
And, by the way, he says the forest does take 150 years – or longer – to fully mature.
The existing Tongass management plan has been developed over years of public debate. It’s attracted attention from national environmental organizations and has been driven in part by policy calls from Washington D.C.
So what does the Forest Service think about the conference’s idea?
“I believe that it’s a legitimate proposal,” says Tongass Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole.
He hasn’t seen the conference’s strategy, though he’s talked to its authors. He says it could be considered if it’s submitted during the process of reconsidering Tongass policies.
“I believe over the life of the current forest plan we’ve looked at 30 or 40 different alternatives. And I’m guessing if that if we get into a modifying of the plan in the near future, we’ll look at a wide variety again. So having a recommendation from Southeast Conference for looking at alternatives is a welcome proposal for us,” Cole says.
Canadian timber consultant Don Reimer provided the research to back up the conference’s approach.
He says it could increase timber jobs from about 500 to more than 2,000 over a number of years. And he says it would save taxpayers’ money.
“We think that it would be able to eliminate most of the cash drain that you have on the Tongass, because you’d now have an active timber program like you used to have in the past that should pay for the restoration work and some of that stuff that needs to be done instead of having a drain on the treasury,” he says.
Southeast Conference leaders acknowledge their approach could be a hard sell.
That’s why they hired Willis Lyford of Anchorage-based Porcaro Communications to spread their message.
“We need to change the debate and the discussion about the timber industry in Alaska. And that takes a lot of hard work and research and a lot of study and people who are experts,” he says.
The company recently polled Southeast and other Alaskans to gage their views of the industry.
He shared results indicating strong support for logging, including its expansion. But it also showed concerns about environmental damage and other impacts.
Staley and Campbell have maintained a long friendship ever since. Over the next several weeks, the pair will collaborate on art and poetry in a new residency program developed by Sitka’s Island Institute.
Campbell has lived and painted in Sitka for decades. Staley, who now lives in Corvalis, Oregon, has just arrived here. She stopped by recently to talk about how a poet and a painter collaborate. She spoke with KCAW’s Robert Woolsey.
Staley and Campbell will share some of their work 5 PM this Sunday, September 22, at Kettleson Library.
The Sitka Fine Arts Camp has launched a new program called the “Young Performer’s Theater.” Auditions will be held tomorrow (Sat 9-21-13) for the company’s first show: “The Adventures of Beatrix Potter and Her Friends.”
Elsbeth Poe is the director of the company and the show. She says there’s a lot more to it than a well-known big-band number performed by Peter Rabbit.
“Jemima Puddleduck is another popular one. Jeremy Fisher. We’re doing the Two Bad Mice, and also the Tailor of Gloucester.”
Poe will cast between 12 and 50 actors. Performers between the ages of 7 and 18 are eligible to try out. Find complete audition information here.
Poe herself comes from a theater family. She’s a graduate of the Southern Oregon University theater program in Ashland.
She says there are rewards to being in theater that many don’t realize.
“It’s a wonderful community-building exercise for our youth, because you are a family. You become this group. You have to put on a production together. Every single member of that team is important.”
Sitka Fine Arts Camp director Roger Schmidt says he’s been thinking about an after-school theater program for a long time — maybe since childhood, when he watched shows on the old Allen Hall stage at Sheldon Jackson.
“Jan Craddick and her daughter, Elaine, did theater there for years and years, and kept this spirit of theater going. So it’s definitely in the back of my mind: I remember as a kid seeing their productions, and having friends who were part of their productions, and the idea of Allen being a place of theater. So anything our organization can do to re-spirit the space with theater is important to me.”
KCAW’s Peter Apathy contributed to this story.
Garrison hopes for third term on Sitka school board. TV show will give makeover to Alaska’s oldest hotel. Feds take wait-and-see stance on Petersburg’s aggressive sea lions.
Chris Dimond remembers spending his childhood playing at Sandy Beach with the Treadwell pump house always just offshore, and, as he grew, the iconic landmark continued to be part of his life.
First, it served as the backdrop for many of his wedding pictures. Later it became the focus of his home’s art collection.
Thursday it became part of his job.
Dimond is one of two foremen from North Pacific Erectors working to replace the deteriorating roof on the old pump house.
Completion of the long-planned waterfront promenade and a new agreement with Ketchikan Fight Club are on Thursday’s Ketchikan City Council agenda.
The promenade has been mostly done for a few years, but the final section has been on hold. The state Department of Transportation recently told the city it plans to bid the project this fall, with construction starting in winter or this coming spring.
According to the city, the intention is to have construction done before the 2014 tourist season.
With that in mind, the Council tonight will review a proposed design, and will hear a report from Historic Ketchikan, which was hired by the city to help with design planning on that project.
Also Thursday, the Council will consider a newly negotiated agreement allowing Ketchikan Fight Club to continue using the Ted Ferry Civic Center for its events. The agreement calls for new rules for alcohol sales, including an 11 p.m. cutoff; and blood-borne pathogen training for Fight Club personnel.
The Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.
The Permanent Fund Dividend amount has been announced for 2013, and Alaskans each will get their share either deposited directly into their bank accounts or mailed to them starting Oct. 3rd.
Some Alaskans won’t get the full $900, though. About 5 percent of those receiving a PFD this year have chosen to give a portion of their annual check to state nonprofit agencies through the Pick.Click.Give. program.
According to the program’s website, Alaskans have pledged about $2.4 million of their PFDs for state organizations, with shelters for people and animals, and public broadcasting at the top of the list.
In Ketchikan, 13 nonprofit agencies received about $25,000 through the program. Women in Safe Homes received the most donations, followed by First City Players and the Ketchikan Humane Society.
Below is a list of each local nonprofit agency that received pledges, and the amount each will get:
- Community Connections: $1,225
- First City Council on Cancer: $2,025
- First City Homeless Services: $2,350
- First City Players: $4,850
- Friends Of The Ketchikan Public Library: $750
- Ketchikan Humane Society: $3,725
- Ketchikan Pioneers Home Foundation: $2,150
- Ketchikan Youth Initiatives: $550
- Love INC Gateway Affiliate: $775
- PeaceHealth Ketchikan General Hospital: $550
- Rainbird Community Broadcasting CoastAlaska: $1,100
- Women in Safe Homes: $5,350
Ketchikan’s downtown felt like fall in more ways than one on Thursday, with heavy rain, blown sideways by strong winds, and no tourists.
It wasn’t supposed to be that quiet, but the weather forecast prompted two Princess Cruise Line ships to announce Wednesday that they were canceling their Thursday port calls, and three more decided Thursday morning that they, too, would skip Ketchikan.
The Ketchikan Visitors Bureau announced that the Statendam, Oosterdam and Zuiderdam, all Holland America ships, would not tie up Thursday.
More cancellations are possible, because Friday’s weather doesn’t look as though it will be much better. Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island and other parts of southern Southeast Alaska are under a high-wind warning through Friday afternoon.
The National Weather Service predicts winds of 25 to 35 miles per hour, with gusts up to 70.
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Elsbeth Poe is the Young Performer’s Theater director at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp. She’s joined by camp executive director Roger schmidt to discuss a new after-school theater program for kids age 7-18. They’ll be holding auditions this Saturday (9-21-13) at Yaw Chapel for their first musical production, The Adventures of Beatrix Potter and her Friends. For complete audition information visit the Sitka Fine Arts Camp online.
Should parents pay for a state required physical exam for new students entering a public school in Alaska? That was the question raised by a member of Petersburg’s School Board this summer. An attorney for the school district says state law makes that cost the responsibility of the school district, not parents, but notes no districts in the state are paying for exams. As a result, Petersburg’s board may seek a change in state law.
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Alaska statute requires each school district to “provide for and require a physical examination of every child attending school in the district.” The law requires that exam, for the most part to be performed by a physician, when the child enters school.
An opinion from attorney Allen Clendaniel this month says while no court has ruled on the issue, he thinks the law means the district is responsible for the cost of that exam.
However, Petersburg superintendent Rob Thomason told the board no schools in Alaska are shouldering that cost. “To make a long story short, there are 54 school districts in the state of Alaska, 53 of them have kindergarten, one of them does not, Mt. Edgecumbe,” Thomason said. “Of the 53 that do have kindergarten, not one district pays for the required health physical of a kindergartner. It is the attorney’s opinion based on the current language of the law that school districts should be paying for those or providing for them with a physician for the law.”
The attorney’s opinion noted the language has been in statute prior to statehood and the original 1953 territorial law even provided funding of two dollars and fifty cents per pupil to help pay for exams. That’s a long way from the cost of a checkup these days and was an issue for board member Sarah Holmgrain. She said she recently took her kid in for a physical but was reluctant to pay. “I dragged my heels because I kept waiting to hear what was gonna happen on this but now I gotta fork over 120 plus dollars to pay for this,” Holmgrain said. “And they didn’t do anything the school district doesn’t do already. They did a vision screening which I felt was mediocre at best. They didn’t do a hearing screening which they’re gonna do anyway. So to me its more thorough. Yeah, looked at his eyes, checked his height, which they do at the grade school. I just think it’s a waste of money for both the parent as well as the school district.”
Holmgrain was referring to health screening already performed by the nurse at the local elementary school. She did not want to require a separate physicians exam if it was not necessary. “Do we have any new students or incoming kindergartners that have not done it yet and what do we do now? Me personally I would be inclined to say, I don’t think we have a leg to stand on to make them require it, unless we turn around and reimburse them. And it’s whether we wanna go through that?”
Board members did not sound interested in having the district taking on the cost of exams. However, board chair Jean Ellis talked about the reason for the exams in the first place. “Well I think probably originally this was put in place to make sure no contagious diseases came into the school I would suspect that’s what that’s for. And that’s still a concern, you still don’t want not to have that happening.”
For some parents the cost of the exam is covered by insurance plans, including Medicaid and Denali Kid Care. Others are not covered under their plans after kids reach a certain age while others may be opting out of insurance.
Board member Dawn Ware was worried about setting a precedent if the district did cover the cost for anyone not getting an exam for their kid. And Board member Cheryl File thought of another solution. “It would be nice if our nurse could do it. If they could change it to where the school nurse could do it,” File suggested.
“That would be the easy answer,” responded Thomason. “For school districts that have nurses. Now you have some that don’t. They actually need a variety of options to get this requirement met. It might be a school nurse, it might be a community health nurse, it might be a village clinic.” Thomason asked for direction from the board, whether Petersburg schools should take over that cost, or seek a change in the state law.
Some districts in the state rely on a nurse to provide exams as a temporary measure if no physician is immediately available or if parents are not compliant. That’s according to Mary Bell, school health nurse consultant in the state’s Division of Public Health. “I actually hear from school districts quite a bit about this statute,” Bell said. “It definitely has some challenges. There were not regulations that were written. It’s an older statute, it’s been on the books for a while. So we’re aware of the challenges and we’re looking at clarifying some of them. So yes it is something we hear about quite frequently at the beginning of the school year in particular.”
Bell noted that there are numerous benefits for getting a checkup with a physician before starting school. “Actually it gives the parent an opportunity to talk about any kind of challenges the child might have entering school for the first time. Any barriers to learning can be identified. They can talk about any kind of accommodations the child might need for the classroom. It gives them a chance to talk about their development and growth and gives an opportunity to look at potential special needs the student might have.”
She said the exams can also include hearing and vision screenings and give parents a chance to learn about nutrition and exercise or get referrals to specialists if needed.
Petersburg’s board directed the superintendent to tackle the issue on three fronts. Those are coming up with a solution for any current students who have not completed a physical, seeking a possible change in state law during the upcoming legislative session and putting forth a resolution before the Alaska Association of School Boards.
An adult female humpback whale was found dead near the Southeast community of Kake earlier this month.
Kate Savage, a marine mammal specialist with the NOAA Fisheries protected resources division in Juneau, says the dead whale was first reported around September 1st in Keku Strait near Kake. It was later floated to an island outside of Kake and Savage led a team performing a necropsy on the animal on September 11th.
“You know we did a fairly complete exam for example of the abdominal cavity,” Savage says. “And it was a large female, adult female. So we wanted to see if there was pregnancy and there wasn’t. So we kind of had to wade through some pretty gunky decomposed tissue but we did see that it wasn’t pregnant. And we also noted that there was some substantial bruising around the ventral grooves which are the sort of ventral part of the whale that expands when it takes in water prior to filtering out the prey matter.”
Savage notes it’s too early to determine a cause of the whale’s death but says it looks like injuries to other humpbacks from collisions with vessels.
“You know it’s really tough to come up with a definitive cause of death but it seemed like there’s probably, it’s very probable there’s traumatic injury involved,” she says. “It possibly was a ship strike but you know it’ll, we send samples off and we’ll kinda wait til everything comes back before we come up with a cause of death and even then it wouldn’t be definitive.”
Another dead humpback was found off Cape Edgecumbe near Sitka last month but a response team did not perform a necropsy on that carcass.
The waters around Kake are a popular feeding spot for the region’s humpbacks during the warmer months. Boaters, fishing vessel crews and visitors have reported an unusually high number of humpbacks in Southeast this summer and Savage says she heard that from Kake residents as well. “There were two community members in Kake that were just so incredibly helpful on the necropsy, it was Lloyd and Adam Davis,” Savage says. “They were just wonderful. And one thing Lloyd told me is he’d never seen, throughout his life in Kake he’d never seen as many whales in that area.”
Besides testing the whale near Kake for cause of death, the necropsy team photographed the tail fluke to identify the animal and collected other samples to learn about its genetic background and food sources.
Scientists estimate the numbers of humpbacks in Southeast are rising six to seven percent a year, while reported collisions between the protected marine mammals and vessels are increasing at nearly the same rate.
Garrison, like many board members, was first elected when his kids were in school. Now that his daughters have graduated, he says he’s following his passion, and using experience in policy and legislative advocacy to make a good school district even better.
While Lon Garrison may not always be the first guy out on the dance floor, he’s not about to be a wallflower, either.
“If I’m going to do something, I’m going to participate.”
Garrison runs hatchery operations at the Sitka Sound Science Center, which he joined after a long career at the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. He’s been active in Sitka Folk, recruiting and promoting talent — plus he’s the guy who comes out on stage in boots and a tweed vest and introduces the bands.
But you don’t have to attend many school board meetings to realize that he places a very high priority on this service, especially.
“It just struck a chord within me, and I’ve found that I have a passion for this. And I’ve met people from around the nation that have that same passion. And it’s really interesting, challenging, and rewarding to work on that.”
Over the past six years Garrison has inherited the role of legislative watchdog — both at the state and federal level. He is a past president of the Alaska Association of School Boards, and he’s a member of the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition.
He believes the idea of public education is threatened right now, by a political push for school vouchers that’s happening in the name of finances.
“There’s a huge emphasis right now in the state legislature to contain costs. And that comes from the governor, and the majority of the legislature — which is a Republican-controlled legislature. They’re looking at their revenues, their dwindling funding sources. So when they begin to dwindle, everybody starts scrambling for the last dollar.”
At a candidate forum recently held by the Chamber of Commerce, Garrison mentioned that he was interested in strategic budgeting. The subject isn’t as compelling to discuss as the role of technology in the classroom, or how to fund activities, but it looms large for the board. The past two or three budgets have all been balanced by eleventh-hour infusions of cash from the state or federal government. He doesn’t think the district’s luck can hold out indefinitely, and he wants to be ready.
“Fortunately we haven’t taken a huge hit yet, all at once. But we are so close to that happening at any given time now, and it’s a little scary. That’s why I really want to work toward a strategic budget plan. It gives us the opportunity to maybe anticipate that and have conversations with people about what’s really important to them.”
Garrison often has expressed an interest in educating the whole child – through academics plus arts, extracurricular activities, and sports. But the board’s significant investment in technology has been criticized as being inconsistent with these fundamentals. Garrison encourages the critics to think again.
“Most of us use computers, software, and communications on a daily basis that require us to use this technology to be more efficient and to communicate well. And to say that we can’t afford to do that in the classroom — it doesn’t make sense to me.”
During last week’s Chamber of Commerce Forum, Garrison and Courtright disagreed over the role of the superintendent of schools — a job the school board will fill this year. Read the full story here.
Garrison is facing a challenger in this election — Stephen Courtright, a teacher at Mt. Edgecumbe High School. Ironically, Garrison says a new voice and new vision are what he would ordinarily encourage on the board. Now, though, he believes stability and experience are the better choice.
“I think so many things are changing — all at one time. It’s such a shifting field that the opportunity — or the necessity, I think — to have experienced board members who are not static, who are not entrenched in the same philosophy all the time. I think I am a critical thinker, I think I can see both sides of the issue, and sometimes I take risks. I think those are important qualities that sometimes it takes time to develop.”
The municipal election in Sitka is Tuesday, October 1st. Garrison and Courtright are vying for one seat on Sitka’s five-member school board. It’s a three-year term.
FAIRBANKS — An effort to auction off Alaska’s largest organic spud farm was a dud.
No bids were made Tuesday when the 1,134-acre Ebbesson Farms went on the auction block at the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
More than 1,500 people showed interest before the auction, including inquiries from the United Kingdom, Germany and China, said Larry Theurer, a Kansas-based auctioneer with United Country Auction Services.
ANCHORAGE — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking steps to protect hundreds of walrus that have gathered on Alaska’s northwest coast.
Spokeswoman Andrea Medeiros said Wednesday that the agency has begun its protocol to prevent stampedes among the animals that gather in close quarters on remote Arctic beaches. The measures include limiting flights in the area and warning nearby villages to avoid walrus herds.