Candidate for School Board
Stephen Sorensen, husband
Part-time medical reception and billing, retired elementary school teacher
Taught elementary regular and special education in Juneau for 35 years
M.S. Education, early childhood education
I’m running for the Juneau School Board because I have taught in Juneau for over 35 years, and I’ve lived downstream from quite a number of board decisions — some good, some bad. I’m aware of the unintended consequences and the collateral damage of a lot of those decisions, and I’d like to take my education, my experience, and help shape future decisions by the board.
I think that one of the most pressing issues for Juneau schoolchildren is safe, predictable classrooms. Juneau has many issues that we confront as a community, including drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, food insecurity. And many of the students in our schools are living with some or all of those in their home lives. I think that we do not have a strategy for helping these students and (ensuring) all of our students have stable, productive classroom environments. Another issue that I think is very important is teaching social studies. One of the unintended consequences of all of our high-stakes testing is it has narrowed the opportunity for the curriculum that our children are able to spend time with in their classroom.
Amid uncertain state funding for K-12 education and a downsizing of the University of Alaska system, what can the Juneau School Board do to prepare our students for the future? What advice would you have for a current Juneau high schooler about their future?
I think that it’s important for all of us to take a long look at what our high school students plan to do after high school. And while, you know, we send lots of our high school graduates off to college, not a particularly high percentage of them pursue a college degree. And it’s important, I believe, to make sure that students, as they leave high school, have a realistic idea about what it is that they might actually wish to do. And with the potential loss of (the University of Alaska Southeast) out there, I think that the Juneau School District is going to need to take a much broader look at how we can prepare students for other kinds of post-secondary careers, other than college.
Should the Juneau School District do more to expand and improve early education opportunities? If so, how?
I spent most of my career teaching kindergarten through second grade. I have a master’s in early childhood education. I am well aware of the importance of early opportunities for learning. There is not state funding for pre-K at this juncture. While we all need to push towards that, I think that realistically speaking, that is probably not on the horizon. The state funding for our existing programs is being marginalized, and I fear it will be, you know, we will see some really traumatic cuts potentially next year. But to the extent that we can support early childhood, pre-kindergarten programs as partners in the community, I think is very important.
The Juneau School District recently adopted an indigenous language policy that affirms the district's commitment to supporting Tlingit language revitalization. How would you hope to see this policy put into practice?
The Tlingit language project is ambitious and timely. Historically, government education institutions were largely responsible for the diminishment of Native languages across the entire country. It is incumbent upon us to do what we can to help restore pieces of the Native culture that schools essentially drummed out in earlier centuries. I do not have a clear vision of how the revitalization of the language within our schools is going to work. I mean, we have the (Tlingit Culture, Language and Literacy) program, which does introduce Tlingit language to a number of students in that program. However, how the expansion is going to work beyond that program, I really don’t have a vision for.
School safety is more than a metal detector in front of a building. School safety is feeling safe when you’re in school. In Juneau, and all across the country, schools are seeing students with more and more severe, disruptive behaviors and violent behaviors. And given those behaviors, it creates a lack of safety in schools, on playgrounds, in classrooms, in hallways, in the restrooms in bigger schools. It is important that we have a robust conversation and develop a policy that speaks to how we are going to support students who have some of these serious behavior issues.