School board plays statewide role

Posted: Friday, November 24, 2000

Educators have honored Mari-Anne Gross as the Alaska School Board Member of the Year.

Gross served on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education before retiring from her seat this fall.

"That is certainly quite an honor," said Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Donna Peterson.

Peterson was present at the Alaska Association of School Board's state conference Nov. 9-12 in Anchorage, when the award was announced. School board members Deborah Germano, Sammy Crawford, Debra Mullins, Nels Anderson, Mike Chenault and Al Poindexter, plus student representative Sara Hart, attended as well.

Gross, a retired engineer, was a member of the peninsula school board for three terms and chose not to seek re-election this fall. She served as president of the AASB over the past year and will serve one more year as past president and member of the state board of directors.

"It was an exciting way to finish up," she said of receiving the award.

She knew she had been nominated for the top award, but did not know she had won until the announcement at the conference.

"It is a great honor to be selected," she said, speaking Tuesday from her home in Homer.

"There are so many wonderful people working in school boards in Alaska. It is humbling to be selected."

The AASB serves two purposes: it trains board members how to be effective and works with the Legislature to improve education for Alaska's children, she said.

The AASB also gave Master Boardsmanship Awards for completing advanced training to Germano, Crawford and former board member Susan Larned.

At Monday's meeting of the school board in Soldotna, members' minds were still on the Anchorage meeting and state level issues.

Hart, a senior at Soldotna High School, said the youth leadership session she attended was fascinating.

"I want to thank the school district for letting me attend the most awesome conference," she said. "I learned tons."

The training helped her learn what leadership means in practical terms such as ways to help the community, she said.

Al Poindexter, a new member of the board, said he attended the orientation training for new members and came away with a similar opinion. The amount of legal regulations affecting school board operations particularly impressed him, he said.

Speakers at the conference included Gov. Tony Knowles and Rick Cross, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

The Alaska High School Graduation Qualifying Exam, also known as the exit exam, was the biggest topic of discussion. Many educators, especially those from small Bush districts with limited resources, were concerned about its impacts on students, Gross said.

A resolution approved at the conference backed the governor's proposal to delay implementing the tests.

Another highlight of the conference was raising funds for scholarships the AASB awards to Alaska high school students.

Kenai board member Mullins' fudge was skillfully auctioned off by the junior members and leveraged into more than $1,000 for the scholarships.

"Those kids were hawking fudge for $50 a piece," Gross said.

In regular school board business Monday:

n Marilee Johansen and Ria Fandel received the district's Golden Apple service awards from the school board for their work. The two women are senior food service managers, Johansen at Nikiski Middle-Senior High and Fandel at Soldotna High. The board praised them for their professional service, dedication to students and volunteer efforts for their school communities.

n Alaska Communications Systems, Unocal and Agrium were honored for assisting the district. This fall the companies donated 40 cellular phones, chargers and air time for schools to use for emergencies, travel and outdoor activities such as recess monitoring.

n The board unanimously passed a resolution supporting the construction of the proposed Kenai youth detention center.

Borough assembly member Pete Sprague and Soldotna Police Chief Shirley Warner, members of the Juvenile Detention Committee working on the project, made a presentation outlining the need for a place to house young offenders, the potential costs and expected benefits. They said they were seeking resolutions of support to help get about $4 million in state funding to build it as early as 2001.

Assistant Superintendent Ed McLain, who also serves on the committee, said the district could continue providing schooling for detainees.

n The district will receive a $156,000 federal grant to provide training and support for teachers to use the educational site of the LightSpan Network and other Internet resources to enhance higher level mathematics skills in selected schools.

Peterson said she received word Friday that the district is in line for dollars from the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund.

The next school board meeting will be 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Borough Building in Soldotna.

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