Sitnews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska



by Mike Harpold


November 23, 2002
Saturday - 9:15 am

"It wasn't you, Mike, it was what you stood for. Most people around here want development." The guy had jaywalked across a busy street just to tell me that.

My first impulse was to protest that I was for development, but felt that building a bridge to Gravina would hurt economic development in the long run. But it was the morning after the election, not the day before, and besides, he was the last guy I wanted to see. There's at
Mike Harpold

least one of his type in everybody's life; the guy who takes it upon himself to make sure that you know what you really need to know. I am convinced that one day this guy's going to lean over my open coffin and say, "You're dead, Mike. You really are dead!"

In the meantime, I have been appointed to fill a vacant seat on the school board. Though appointed, not elected, my vote will count as much as those who were. Election campaigns serve to inform people about a candidates stand on the issues. Not having gone through a campaign for my school board seat, (I was interviewed and a synopsis was printed in the Daily News, on November 14, 2002, however) people have had little opportunity to examine my record and my views on education. I'm sure that many people wonder what brings me back to the school board. So, in the interest of explaining what I stand for, here goes.

First of all, I am just one member of the board. There are seven. The current board has already started in several directions that I intend to follow. Chief among these is the completion of a strategic plan. During my first term, the board started a strategic planning process that was never completed. The current effort will be done under the direction of Bruce Johnson of the state Department of Education.

This strategic planning effort should dovetail nicely with a suggestion that board member Russell Thomas came up with, second year budgeting. Heretofore the board has budgeted only for the upcoming year, concentrating on meeting the coming year's expected contingencies, and allowing little opportunity for advance planning or multiyear programs. Planning a budget for more than one year will put meaning into the planning process.

The school board will soon have to decide what to do with next year's seventh and eighth grade classes during the rebuilding of Schoenbar Middle School. New seventh-graders and their parents want a middle-school program. To further complicate matters, the board will have to come up with a location for the proposed new charter school, the Tongass School of the Arts and Sciences. These parents also, not unlike the parents of the core-knowledge curriculum charter school, want the use of school facilities to pursue the educational program that they feel is best for their kids. Some equate the problem of finding space for all of these purposes to seeking to untie the Gordian Knot. Others predict that no one will be satisfied regardless of the solution.

Clearly, there is a workable solution to these seeming conflicting demands for space. But, as this community knows from experience, it is often not the decision itself but the manner in which the decision is arrived at that causes the problem in our community. My voice will be one that seeks to help the board and the administration arrive at, and implement, a decision that the community will feel confident is right and fair.

Another problem of great concern to me is our school system's continuing high dropout rate. In some years our district has lost close to one hundred students between eighth grade graduation and high school graduation. I believe that by addressing this problem the district will develop the resources through increased attendance, and better financial support from the borough, that will in turn finance such measures as restoring voc-tech classes and rebuilding this district's correspondence program.

When my wife and I first came to Ketchikan in the mid-eighties, we were impressed by the confidence and pride this community had in it's public schools. It was a big factor in encouraging us to stay and raise our family here. But for too many years now the school district has planned, in a joyless process, for an ever diminishing program based upon expected drops in enrollment and shrinking resources. We have planned for the worst, and predictably, the worst is what we have gotten. Poor economy or not, we need to turn that around and get some vitality and confidence back into our schools. Our children deserve to be educated in an atmosphere of hope and promise.



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