Jeanne Kitayama teaches preschoolers about colors with food coloring and rice. (Emily Files)

Jeanne Kitayama teaches Klukwan preschoolers. (Emily Files)

Last month, a seat opened up on the Haines Borough School Board. Now, the group has appointed a retired Haines educator to fill the vacancy.

The board voted unanimously to appoint Jeanne Kitayama to the open seat.

“Being retired, semi-retired now, you spend so much time in education. It’s not so easy to just let go of it and not be a part of it,” said Kitayama.

Kitayama is retired from teaching at the Haines School. At this week’s board meeting, she said she’s been involved in education positions in town since the early 1990s. Kitayama was back at the school recently, serving as a long-term substitute in the kindergarten classroom two years in a row.

“I think it’s important to know that joining the school board for me is like not coming with any agenda,” said Kitayama. “It’s – we’ve benefited a lot from this community and when I look at where I can give back, it’s what I have in my background.”

The seat opened up last month. Board Member Mike Wilson is moving, leaving the spot vacant.

Kitayama wasn’t the only candidate for the job. The board interviewed Arthur Woodard as well. Woodard is a military veteran who’s worked in the private sector and owned a business. He says he spent his later career in education.

Both candidates were asked if they believe in the school district’s mission, and what their vision is for fulfilling it. The mission identifies graduating ‘life-long leaners.”

“I was working here when we threw around a lot of those ideas and I think that’s the one that was most open to what real life is and what school is. And just balancing academics and socialization,” said Kitayama.

“We have a responsibility to teach values and that’s certainly an important value,” said Woodard.

They were also asked what the most pressing issue is for the district.

“I think that the most pressing issue is probably being totally aware of the conditions in the classroom,” said Woodard.

“Seems like it’s always been enrollment and the economy going up and down, and how to plan for the future,” said Kitayama.

Woodard noted that his background in the private sector could be helpful in the school board position.

“A lot of people go from high school to college to teaching,” said Woodard. “And I don’t think they’re really that worldly when it comes to surviving. And knowing what’s needed by the students so to speak.”

The board voted to go into executive session to discuss the two candidates before making their decision, but not without some debate. Kitayama initially expressed interest in deliberations being open. And board member Sara Chapell objected to a closed-door session.

“We’re elected officials and we serve the public,” said Chapell. “And I think that we should be having this entire discussion in public.”

Board president Anne Marie Palmieri and Chapell both voted against going into executive session, but they were overruled by those in favor. When they returned, the board voted unanimously to appoint Kitayama. Here’s Palmieri.

“This is a ten month position,” said Palmieri. “And I feel like Jeanne, knowing the school and knowing kind of how we operate, kind of have a few steps ahead in order to – up on that learning curve.”

The position expires at the October election. Kitayama wasn’t sworn in yet. She’s currently employed by the school district as a long-term substitute and that prohibits her from also serving on the board. The sub position ends on Jan. 30, so the board plans to swear in its newest member at the next meeting.