Story by KTNA’s Melis Coady
Producer’s Note: The incumbent for Seat F is listed in this story as “Lacy Neal.” As was pointed out by a listener, the incumbent’s name is actually Neal Lacy. KTNA conducted an interview with Mr. Lacy, and a story on his candidacy is forthcoming. Our apologies for the inaccuracy.
The Mat-Su School Board has seven members and this October three seats are up for election. Seat C is uncontested by Susan Pougher, incumbent and current president of the board. Two candidates are running for Seat G, Dave Cheezem and Ray Michealson both from Palmer. Then there is seat F with four candidates competing including Talkeetna resident Dr. Donna Dearman. Donna explains, running for a seat with so many other candidates was not part of her election strategy.
“The day candidacy opened, I was the first person to file my candidacy papers, and I filed for Seat F. Why did I file for Seat F? I really can’t tell you. It was a coin toss. So here, all of a sudden, there are four of us running for Seat F, and it’s kindof odd. People keep saying, ‘Why are four people running for Seat F?’ I don’t know…but I am the only one running from the Upper Valley.”
Donna’s name is on the ballot for seat F along with Jim Tapley of Sutton, Stephen Jacobson of Wasilla, and Neal Lacy, incumbent, and resident of Wasilla. Donna believes that cities of Palmer and Wasilla are already well represented on the board and that it is important to have someone from the outer borough to represent the needs of more rural communities.
The MSBSD is home to 45 schools ranging in enrollments from about 20 to more than 1,300 students. With a district wide enrollment of approximately 17,500 students, Mat-Su is the second largest school District in Alaska–behind Anchorage.
During her campaign, Donna committed to visit and chat with the principals and administrators of more than half the schools in the district. She was interested in their thoughts and concerns and she discovered a strong pattern in what they had to say.
“This is what I hear. A lot of it is based on attendance. If we can get the children to school, if we can get the students in the classroom, and allow the teachers to get them engaged and do what the teachers–because we have such great teachers in the Mat-Su–if we can get the teachers to just give them all that they’ve got…”
Academic achievement at the state level is measured by the The Alaska School Performance index. Twenty-five percent of a school’s rating is based on attendance. In results released last month Talkeetna elementary fell short of a four-star rating because of its attendance rate. Talkeetna elementary has the lowest attendance rate of any elementary school in the borough at 88%. Donna Dearman points out that the borough does not have a cohesive plan dealing with attendance.
“If someone were to say to me, ‘What would be a goal of yours,’ it would be to collaborate with the District, the School Board, administrators, teachers, and parents, and let’s work on something that everybody feels that they had a buy-in with–that they contributed to–and that we could come up with something. Because the only way that we are going to continue to be successful in raising those test scores and raising graduation rates is to have children in school. That’s where they need to be. Yes, it’s hard here. It’s winter, it’s dark, it’s cold, ‘I don’t want to wait for the bus.’ But ‘I don’t want,’ today is not going to translate to your productive future.”
Donna acknowledges the diversity of students in the borough. She is a huge proponent of home school programs, vocational courses and programs for students with special needs.
First a teacher, then an assistant principal in the Miami school district in Florida, Donna has worked in the field of education for over 20-years. In 1990 she helped draft a piece of legislation in Florida that has since been adopted in all 50-states that acknowledges that English is a second language for deaf students whose first language is American Sign Language. Since it’s adoption numerous deaf students have been able to use this distinction to gain admission to public universities.
Donna received her doctorate in special education administration in 1996. In Talkeetna, Donna volunteers at Talkeetna Elementary School, runs the Upper Susitna Seniors Meals on Wheels program, and is a volunteer DJ on KTNA. In-person absentee voting opens at the Talkeetna Public Library next Monday, September 16th.