School Board candidates Sara Chapell, Mike Wilson and Inez Gross. (Emily Files)

School Board candidates Sara Chapell, Mike Wilson and Inez Gross. (Emily Files)

The three candidates running for Haines School Board this election season joined KHNS for an on-air forum last week. Mike Wilson, Sara Chapell and Inez Gross are running for three open seats on the board.

Each candidate has a different level of school board experience. Inez Gross, who works for First National Bank, has never been on the school board before.

“Last year there were a couple positions that people were appointed to for the school board and I had thought about running at that time,” Gross said. “This year, since there were three positions [open] I thought I would give it a try.”

Tiffany Dewitt and Mike Wilson were the two people appointed to vacant seats last winter. Wilson, who is a retired educator, is running to keep his seat.

“I just think that this is a really good district,” he said. “It has lots of good things going on and I want to help to continue to improve it.”

KHNS development director Sara Chapell is finishing her first three-year term on the school board.

“We have a really strong school district, which I’m proud of,” Chapell said. “But every school could use improvement. And I think our school board members do a really good job of asking questions and working to make the school the best it can be.”

Chapell and Wilson talked about areas in which they feel the district could improve.

“I’m concerned that communication might be somewhat of a stumbling area,” Wilson said. “And I would hope that the community and teachers and administration can come together.”

Chapell says two major challenges that are connected to each other are declining enrollment and budgetary restrictions.

“We are definitely facing an uphill battle in keeping our district adequately funded,” she said. “And being able to support our students and our teachers in a way that is adequate is going to be complicated. We are losing enrollment every year.”

School districts in Alaska are funded based on a per-student allocation — fewer students mean less money.

Last year, a decision about whether to expand technology one-to-one in Haines School caused some controversy in the community. Administrators and teachers initially asked the school board to approve technology purchases that would allow each student to have their own laptop or iPad. Some parents didn’t like the idea of more tech in the youngest grades. In the end, the board approved expanded technology so that fifth grade and up has one-to-one. Wilson says, he would support K-4 having one-to-one technology as well.

“But that does not mean that any student is going to be using technology from the beginning of the day to the end of the day,” Wilson said. “What I think it means is they have access.”

Chapell and Gross said right now, they don’t see the need for one-to-one in the youngest grades.

I’m not convinced that we need one-to-one for 100 percent of our students,” Chapell said.

“The lower grades, I don’t know that they need one-to-one right now, but my mind could be changed,” Gross said.

It was last year’s superintendent, Ginger Jewell, who helped lead the push for expanded technology. Jewell was with the district for a year before unexpectedly leaving. Now, the district has an interim superintendent while they search for permanent replacement. Chapell was on the hiring committee for Jewell. She says, whenever you hire someone, you’re taking a chance.

“This year we wanted to step back and do an even better job,” Chapell said. “So we did make the big decision to contract with the Alaska Association of School Boards to manage our hiring process for the superintendent.”

The school board voted unanimously for that decision. The AASB consulting costs $7,000. All three candidates agree paying for the expert help is worth it.

“Having her help, or her organization’s help is good, and also time is on our side,” said Gross. “We don’t have to rush into it, we can take our time and be actively looking for a new superintendent.”

The school board met with an AASB consultant Tuesday to talk about what qualities are most important for the next superintendent. Wilson says communication is essential.

“First of all, this person should be a very good communicator and take ideas, include groups to make good decisions,” he said.

Chapell said she wants the superintendent to be accessible.

“We really think of our school as a family, and we want to see our superintendent at the basketball games and track meets and walking the halls and developing personal relationships with students,” she said.

The three candidates also answered questions about the potential agreement to house Chilkat Valley Preschool in Haines School and the district’s relationship with homeschool families. You can hear the full school board candidate forum here: