In their own words: School board candidate Nancy Mendenhall
School Board seat C
Incumbent Nancy Mendenhall (unopposed)
NN: What are your qualifications and why do you want to run for School Board?
Nancy Mendenhall: Nome citizens, if you can, please take a look on the NPS website at the NPS Mission, Vision Guiding Principles, and Board and Superintendent Goals. I believe strongly in all of these. I have both BA and Masters degrees in English with a minor in Education. I have worked in various administrative and teaching positions in public schools, Alaska State-Operated Schools, and college system in Alaska since 1961 with the exception of three partial years outside for graduate work. My teaching and coordination work involved four different locations and levels in Alaska before coming to Nome. I also did years of subbing when I was commercial fishing, so I have a wide range of experience in the public schools. I began working as adjunct faculty at Northwest Campus UAF in about 1975, became a full-time administrator there in 1982-83, and became Campus Director in 1987, retiring in 1996. For one term in the 1980s I was on the Nome School Board, but did not run again when I became Campus Director. I have recently been on the School Board again for one three-year term.
My other qualification is that I have a total of 17 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who have gone through school in Nome or are doing so now. They have ended up in a wide variety of professions. I am naturally concerned that the ones enrolled now are getting the very best education possible “for a changing world,” as we say in our NPS Vision.
NN: Describe your experience with education in Nome and highlight the changes you’d like to see in Nome School District.
Nancy Mendenhall: I have described my own experience in the answer above. I also held educational positions with Kawerak and Norton Sound before moving to the college. For the last several years I believe our district has had strong leadership on the Board and in our administration and that we are going on a positive path that addresses the needs of this district’s children. We have many innovative special projects going on, in addition to the regular instruction, all of which are focused on raising achievement of all students, closing the gaps, and making our schools more culturally relevant, more challenging, and more adapted to the needs of Alaska and our community. Over 95 percent of our student body identify as non-white, Hispanic, or mixed ethnic background and one important goal we have is to maintain our high standards and at the same time make our course offerings and teaching more personalized, more adapted to this large majority. This means more and better strategic planning, careful recruitment, focused teacher training, more attention to social and emotional learning and cooperative learning, more attention to advanced placement and dual credits through NWC, work study opportunities and more courses in career and technical training, and in life skills. We have developed several regional partnerships that help in this greatly, such as with BSSD’s NACTEC program, and we have received considerable financial and planning help from regional organizations and the City of Nome. I think we have had a strong academic college prep program at Nome-Beltz but we must do more in AP, Career and Technical, and in life skills. We must continue to support strong pre-school programs, have prioritized raising our elementary reading and math scores, and for all grades we must continue to work at making our schools more welcoming to all, including the many transfer students. We must have a strong counseling program that addresses our students’ individual problems. In sum, we must use our Strategic Plan and Personalized Learning approach even more effectively. To accomplish this the board must be strongly supportive of our teachers, admin and support staffs, and of their roles in the all of the above. This often means significant change, and also requires financial stability.
NN: How do you propose the school district prepares for decreasing budget realities as costs rise?
Nancy Mendenhall: This requires a great deal of board and especially administrative work. The rural superintendents have become strong lobbyists at Juneau. This year they were able to win back all of the threatened cuts in state funding. In addition the City Council gave us a generous increase. Again, much time and effort was spent on both parties’ parts, including the board. We were able to replace almost all of the positions we had cut. (We had not cut any teaching positions.) However, there are serious cuts to education threatened at the federal level as well, and these funds support voc-tech and our computerized instructional system. We have developed important partnerships in the region and must work more with them to keep our quality schools: BSSD, Kawerak, NSEDC, Lions, Sitnasuak, Nome Community Center, Nome Eskimo Community and more —I can’t name them all here —have responded to the need.
We cannot cut required core classes, and we oppose increasing size of classes beyond a teachable number. If more cuts do come (as well as increased costs in salaries and benefits like health insurance, or in power, maintenance, etc.) we have to postpone needed repairs/renovations/replacements, and cut support positions like teacher aides, coaches, travel, activities, teacher training, etc. — which we don’t like to do as they are all important for a high quality school district.
The funding solution is largely in the hands of the voters in Alaska as the Legislature provides the lion’s share of our budget. Do Alaskans want superior schools or mediocre ones?
NN: How do you propose to remedy the health care situation for the teachers?
Nancy Mendenhall: The board sets and reviews policy; it does not engage in management problems and solutions, so I can’t answer this question from the position of managing our health insurance. But we have strongly advised the superintendent to do everything in his power to assist the teachers with their increased unexpected financial burden from what savings he can find. He will also be searching for a better insurance arrangement. More detail on progress on this will be available at our October meeting. I can assure the public that we are taking the problem very seriously.
Thank you and be sure to vote in all elections!