NSB Board of Education candidate explain their platforms | #Education

Last Friday, KBWR hosted a candidate forum for the 11 candidates on the ballot for four three-year terms on the North Slope Borough Board of Education.
Running for school board for today’s general elections is as follows.
For Seat A, representing Utqiagivk, filers include incumbent Mary Jo Olemaun, Hina Kilioni, Julia Kim, Robyn Burke and Christopher Danner.
For Seat B, representing Utqiaġvik, Qaiyaan Harcharek is running unopposed.
Filers for Seat, C representing Utqiaġvik, are Anton Edwardson, Caitlin Montague and Frieda Nageak.
For Seat E, representing Wainwright and Atqasuk, incumbent Madeline Hickman is running against Amos Nashoopuk.
The two-hour forum was moderated by KBRW’s board member and former news director, Janelle Everett, and translated into Inupiaq by Etta Fornier. Candidates were asked why they are running for the North Slope Borough Board of Education, and what their goals are; what are the biggest challenges facing local schools; and what is their vision for the future of the school district.
Candidate biographies and summarized question responses
(For Seat A)
Robyn Burke is a parents and lifelong community member of Utqiaġvik. She is the mother of three children, one of whom is school-aged. Burke began working in the school district in 2010, first as a personal assistant in the human resources department, and later as a school facilitator at Hopson Middle School, a secretary at Barrow High School, and the School Board Secretary. “As an employee, I gained an intimate knowledge of the inter workings of the district,” she said. Her experience includes traveling to every school, holding in-services with staff, serving on the district negotiating team, building budget scenarios and developing a recruitment and retention plan. In response to why she’s running for school board, Burke said she wants to contribute and help ensure a strong future of education on the slope.
As a former administrator at the human resources department, Burke said turnover rate of superintendent level, department level and school level level is the biggest challenging facing local schools. “It’s evident that the lack of consistency has tricked down…which affects the school morale and ultimately teachers and students,” she said. Burke said she has read too many teacher’s resignation letters who left the district for unfavorable reasons. She said it’s important to recruit teachers who want to stay long-term, but in order to do that the district needs to foster and welcoming and supportive community. “For them to stay, they need to be valued, be safe and have the resources they need to do the job,” she said.
Burke’s vision of the school district includes better outcomes for students through improving stability, incorporating Inupiaq learning, and continuing development of new curriculum. She also said she’d like to see seeing an increased graduation rates and better resources for parents to feel engaged.
Julia Kim is a first-generation Korean American who was born and raised in Barrow to the well-know restauranteurs of Sam & Lee’s. Kim graduated from Barrow High School as co- valedictorian and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and minors in Education and Law from the University of Washington. She returned to Utqiaġvik to serve as deputy advisor for the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, which engaged youth on North Slope Borough history, culture and governance. She taught English in Korea and volunteered at a school in Cambodia in 2018 before returning to Utqiaġvik last April. Kim said she’s running for school board to help local youth who struggle with identity to find their place in the world. “Feeling like you don’t belong is not rare,” she said. “I struggled with personal identity growing up. I believe the school district should play a more pivotal role connecting with their identity and their truth.”
Kim said she sees an important challenge facing schools being the lack of ability to retain teachers and attract more local hire. “It’s obvious that teachers and school staff have immense impact on how students approach education,” she said. Kim added that familiar or consistent teachers builds confidence in the system and offers a sense of stability that can promote learning and help improve low levels of proficiency across the borough. Additionally, Kim said COVID-19 is further illuminating barriers to education among students for kids with multiple students under one roof, no access or unreliable access to internet and lack of familial support. Kim proposed building a connection between community needs and the types of classes offered at the schools. She also suggested a local mentorship program to help students connect with mentors who may help them see themselves in local roles.
Kim said she envisions the borough school district being at the forefront of providing meaningful education to preserve and revitalize Inupiaq language and culture, and providing meaningful education to diverse group of students.
Hina Kilioni, a Pacific Islander hailing from Hawaii, has lived and worked in Utqiaġvik for nearly a decade. He currently works for the borough as the acting emergency manager. “Although I wasn’t raised here, I find that the values I grew up with as a Tongan and the Inupiaq values are the same,” he said. Kilioni has worked as a counseling technician for the NSB Health Department Children and Youth Services, a law office manager at the state public defender’s office, Student Life Coordinator at Ilisagvik college, and as a child care center teacher at Barrow Early Learning Center. Kilioni is also a U.S. Navy veteran and LBQTQ community member. In response to why he’s running for Seat A, Kilioni said he’s interesting serving all of the children in the community. A key goal for school boards is to create a long-term vision, Kilioni said. He said he’d like to define a clear vision and encourage open communication between the school board with parents, students and teachers in the community.
Kilioni roamed consistency and COVID-19 among the two biggest challenges facing the borough’s schools. “Consistency is key,” he said, calling out a low retention of educators on the slope, stemming from out-of-state teachers struggling to adapt and also feeling like they’re left out of conversations that impact them. Kilioni proposed better supporting and growing teachers with professional development and training. Additionally, he suggested board members put in more face time at the schools to better learn the names and faces of students they serve.
Kilioni said his vision for the school district includes accountability, compassion and cooperation in the interest of educational development for students. He said he wants the district to become more transparent so that everyone is one the same page.
Cristopher Danner was born and raised in Utqiaġvik. After receiving a bachelor of arts degree in film and HD production, Danner worked for the school district for eight years documenting Inupiaq lifestyle through videography and photography. “This work afforded me the privilege of traveling to each of our communities on the North Slope and meeting with parents, teachers and students in every community,” he said. Danner has additionally volunteered teaching Utqiaġvik youth basketball for the past decade. He said he’s running for a seat because children, parents and teachers deserve a school district that works for them. He wants to restore faith in Inupiaq education, encourage better communication between the community and the school board, and change the way residents think about success pertaining to the Inupiaq language. “Non-fluent students can still be champions of the language,” he said.
Danner named providing quality education during the pandemic to students as his area of concern. “Public education is supposed to be free,” he said. “It’s not free when working parents are incurring lost wages or internet bills are stacking up because of virtual learning.” He said the longterm challenge will be the district’s ability to implement curriculum that works with the Inupiaq way of life. As a solution, Danner proposed implementing a cultural calendar to account for whaling or caribou hunting seasons.
Danner’s vision for the school district is to be inclusive and responsive to community concerns.
Incumbent Mary Jo Olemaun did not attend the forum.
Qaiyaan Harcharek, running unopposed for seat B, was not available for the radio interview, but later submitted his bio to the North Slope Borough Education Association. Harcharek, born and raised in Utqiaġvik, is an Inupiaq harpooner, whaler, trapper, hunter and anthropologist. He wrote he is the proud aapa of two grandchildren and proud husband of Jamie Harcharek.
(Seat C)
Anton Edwardson of Utqiaġvik is North Slope Borough school alumni, graduate of the University of Puget Sound in Washington, and lifelong whaler. As a former student on the slope and an Inupiaq, Edwardson said he believes he is well-equipped to address issues of depression, substance abuse and mental health issues plaguing students today. “I am running for the NSB Board of Education because I want to be a part of the system that had allowed me to do what my father couldn’t do, continue to practice being Inupiaq while being taught by the Western education system,” Edwardson said.
The biggest issues facing school children, in Edwardson’s opinion, are the same as those impacting his generation and the generations before him: the repercussions of colonization. “This, coupled with teacher retention issues, acts as a catalyst which diminishes student trust,” he said. He proposed fostering a culture that encourages teacher retention and works around the impacts brought on by colonization by including teacher’s in cultural activities.
Edwardsons’ vision is students ready for the workforce—whether it be college or trade school—well-equipped educators, and a district that assist students in healing the heavy pasts they carry, he said.
Caitlin Montague was raised in Eastern Washington, and first came to Alaska to work as a teacher in Monokatak. She later received a master’s in Education from University of Alaska Fairbanks, and then a Ph.D in cross-cultural studies education. In 2013, Montague came to Utqiaġvik to work as the curriculum coordinator for the North Slope Borough School District. Her department was cut from the district in 2019, and she’s since continued with consulting work for rural school districts who need help with strategic planning and school improvement. Montague, who met her spouse in Utqiaġvik and now has a child in the school system, said she’s running for school board as a way to use her experience to give back to the community. “I have a deep firs-hand knowledge of Alaska state statute and school regulations, NSBSD board policy, and the role of the school board within the organization,” she said.
Montague said learning how to serve remote students in the communities is the most immediate challenge the borough faces. She said she’s willing to listen and provide space for concerns in the community to be heard. In addition to addressing health and safety plans for when student inevitably come back to class, Montague said the borough needs to begin strategizing how to account for emotional stress on teachers, students and administrates.
Montague’s vision for the school district aligns with its existing mission and stated vision, she said. Where the real works takes place is developing appropriate action steps and implementation to make the vision a reality, she said.
Frieda Nageak grew up in Utqiaġvik, but later moved away to Anchorage for 15 years. She returned home last spring, and now has children in the local school system. Nageak said she is running for the school board for the kids, parents, teachers and staff. “I will bring honesty, teamwork and encouragement,” she said. Nageak added that when her son graduated from Kiita, nobody from the school board that was invited to the ceremony showed up. “I plan on being involved in any events that I am invited to,” she said. “Kids always come first.”
Nageak identified communication, challenging kids, and bullying as the biggest issues facing the school district’s schools. She said there needs to be better communication from the board to the administrators, and then on to the teachers. She suggested implementing an advanced program for kids who learn at a quicker rate in the classroom, who are not being challenged to their full potential. As for bullying, Nageak said, “Our district is diverse with lots of kids from different upbringings and standards. We need to take a stand in our schools and community. No kid should suffer from bullying on any school prop or any school event.”
Nageak vision is for everyone to work together productively and effectively and for all children to receive the best education possible and succeed as young adults, she said.
(Seat E)
Madeline Hickman of Wainwright attended school in her village until eighth grade, when she was sent to boarding school in Wrangell for a year, then Mount Edgecumbe the final three years of high school. Hickman later earned her Associates Degree in Learning in Anchorage, then a bachelor’s degree in business management in Virginia. She moved back to Wainwright in 2013, and became involved in the school as a staff member. Hickman said she’s running for the board of education in the interest of equal opportunity for all village students to receive the same education and benefits as those in Utqiaġvik.
Hickman said the biggest challenge is retention of teachers, and an overcrowding of village schools.
Hickman’s vision for the school district is open communication down the chain of communications from administrators to teachers. Hickman added she’d like to see villages get the education they need to become home-grown teachers, and for students to become engaged in the community after they’ve graduated.
Amos Nashoopuk was born and raised in Wainwright, though his father was from Point Hope. He is a former school board member, former president of Wainwright School Advisory Council and former volunteer basketball and volleyball coach, he said. He also served as the vice chair of Ilisagvik Board of Trustees. Nashoopuk said he’s running because he was called on by parents saying he was needed back on the school board, and he wants to be an active voice for his community, the community of Atqasuk and the North Slope Borough. He said his goal is “to ensure at the end of the day we think of our students in every decision we make as the governing body of the North Slope Borough Board of Education.”
Nashoopuk said making sure each child is being reached to get the education they need and deserve is the biggest challenge. He proposed setting up a cooperative effort to ensure students are completing their homework, and that they have the support they need. “Another challenge is reaching out to those children who slip between the cracks,” he said.
Nashoopuk said unification of each community and their entities is his vision to foster successful students.

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