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An Interview with Ray Michaelson, Candidate for School Board Seat G

by Phillip Manning ~ September 20th, 2013

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Ray Michaelson of Palmer is running for Seat G of the Mat-Su District School Board.  Michaelson was born in Palmer, and says he has lived in Alaska for fifty years.  He has three children who attended Mat-Su schools, and is a school volunteer.  Professionally, Michaelson has worked in multiple roles for the Division of Juvenile Justice.  Currently, he is an administrator of quality assurance for programs aimed at delinquent youth.  He says that many of the programs he works on focus on keeping at-risk and detained students connected to education and have allowed him to build working relationships with District staff.

Michaelson says he chose to run for School Board as opposed to City Council or Borough Assembly because he feels his volunteer, professional, and parenting experience give him insight into what is best for students.  He says one of the most critical issues facing the School Board in the near future will be funding.

“I think that one of the biggest challenges is strategically planning for how we’re going to maintain our services in the fastest-growing community in the state with the statewide financial future–that picture’s still being painted, but it begins, I think, with the wise management of the resources we have now.”

When asked about the new Alaska School Performance Index, which replaced the school rating system from No Child Left Behind, Michaelson says that it’s natural for people to be concerned about a new system, but that it’s important to take time to see what the real impacts will be.

“We need to fully experience what this is going to entail for teacher evaluations, for school evaluations, for how we look at truancy, what we do about truancy, and what we do about how we’re assessing students and measuring their progress–how far did they come along in their education–and really make sure that we’re paying attention to those competencies and those conditions to really give this new rating process a chance to come to fruition.”

Michaelson also says that the new rating system’s focus on improvement plans for schools that do not achieve four and five star scores deserves follow-through and commitment in order to make positive changes in area schools.  He says he wants to be part of the conversation in determining whether the system will work in the long term.

Michaelson says the broad goal of the District, and public education in general, should be to prepare students for the future.  He refers to the School District’s mission statement of, “Preparing kids for success,” and says that while success is a subjective standard, it comes down to real-world application of learning.

“I think our goal is to make sure that we’re assessing what the needs are of kids as we prepare them to learn to write, to learn to read, to learn to apply the concepts they’ve learned to real-life situations, whether that be just sitting down and getting people coming to the table with different ideas, or that’s counting change, or planning the structure to build a bridge.”

With regard to schools in the Upper Valley and other rural areas, Michaelson says that there is potentially an advantage to the lack of districted School Board seats.  He says that not having geographic districts forces Board members to take a more holistic approach with regard to school needs.

“It’s easy to look at the three largest high schools and say, “They need this,” and, “They need that,” without paying attention to the needs of Big Lake Elementary or Su Valley High and places like that.  Just because they’re smaller populations doesn’t mean that–their needs, and our value of what those needs are and our assessment of those needs, should not be any less than the largest high school in the Valley, which I believe is Wasilla this year.”

Ray Michaelson is one of two candidates running for Seat G.  His opponent is David Cheezem, who was appointed to the School Board in February to fill the vacancy left by Lynn Gattis.  The election for School Board seats C, F, and G will be on October 1st, and early voting has begun.

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