By Marie L. Monyak
January 30, 2006
Ketchikan, Alaska - Invited guest speakers at the Ketchikan Greater Chamber of Commerce luncheon meeting last Wednesday were Mike Harpold, a Ketchikan School Board member, and Superintendent Harry Martin. Both spoke before the Chamber about keeping kids in school.
Before hearing from the guest speakers, Mike Holman, Chamber member and a property owner in the Newtown area, announced the formation of a new citizen and business group, Ketchikan for a Positive Economy.
The purpose of the Ketchikan for a Positive Economy (KPE) group is to keep the public informed and promote the port project and support the city's bond election. Holman, acting as organizer, announced that Zig Zigler of Alliance Realty and Dennis Pope of First City Electric would fill the positions of Co-Chairmen. Chris Parks of Tongass Trading would be Treasurer and John Kimmel, Deputy Treasurer.
Ketchikan for a Positive Economy held its first community meeting on January 27th to provide information about the Berth III Renovation Project, the proposed Port Revenue Bond and the special election scheduled for April 11, 2006. Representatives of KPE were available to answer questions and discuss issues. It is the hope of KPE that all residents of Ketchikan and local businesses will recognize the importance of the visitors industry.
Joe Johnston, newly installed President of the Chamber, spoke next. Making reference to the recent incident at the last Chamber lunch on Wednesday, January 18th, Johnston called it unfortunate. "First and foremost, it was never my intention, or that of the Chamber, to be perceived as sweeping the incident under the carpet, Johnston said. "We did get several calls about the coverage in the news media from upset parents about the reprinting of exactly what was said. I was not mad at the news media but we did have to react to the comments we received."
Johnston repeated, "The incident was unfortunate, there was a perception that I made an attempt to dismiss it. No, we don't want to do that but the Chamber is going to continue to look at and continue to talk about controversial issues." Johnston continued, "We are going to be that forum, we are a place where people can come to express their opinions. We want to do it tactfully and carefully. We also want to have some fun. In light of that, Blaine Ashcraft [Business Director] has a new role."
Ashcraft approached the podium, unzipped his jacket and stood in front of the gathering decked out in a brand new striped referee shirt complete with a whistle hanging around his neck. Johnston clearly stated, "I don't want anybody to walk out of this room and think this is off-color or distasteful or in any way making a mockery of what happened last week. It is just to break up the tension from the incident." After much laughter, Ashcraft introduced the first guest speaker, Mike Harpold.
A member of the Board of Education for Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District (KGBSD), Mike Harpold came up to the podium and said, "I want to talk to you about keeping kids in school. "When first elected to the school board in the early 90's, I became aware of the high school drop out rate. Our drop out rate was two and three times that of our neighboring communities." Harpold continued, "Wrangell, Petersburg, Craig and Klawock had drop out rates of 2.2 and 2.3%. Ketchikan was running 6 and 7%. This past year was 7.2%."
Harpold informed everyone that when the school district reworked their strategy plan three years ago they came up with a special sub-committee that developed several solutions to deal with the dropout problem. He said he would address two of the solutions.
The first solution would be for the school board to ask the borough assembly to enact a truancy ordinance. This ordinance would enforce keeping kids in school. "Enacting a local statute would enable the school district to enforce truancy through its own resources," Harpold explained. "It's practical for the school district to initiate court proceedings to require that penalized parents keep their kids in school.'
At this, Harpold brought Harry Martin up to the podium. Martin is the Superintendent for the KGBSD and he elaborated on the proposed truancy ordinance.
Martin said, "The ordinance would give the school district the authority to send a letter home to parents that says your child is a habitual truant and under borough code, we are letting you know that your child has to be back in school and if not, you will be sent a citation that says you have to appear in court."
"It does say, under State law, a parent may be punished up to $300 for each occurrence of truancy," Martin explained. The new ordinance would be set forth under the KGB code and state that once a parent has received a citation, if the child maintains a perfect attendance record the rest of the semester, they would forego the fine. Martin said, "This is a way for the parent and child to get back on track."
The Superintendent was happy to announce the recently received grant of three million dollars that would be spread out over a three year period. A portion of the grant would be utilized for the Safe Schools/Healthy Student program known simply as SS/HS.
The SS/HS program will allow for the hiring of an Early Childhood Outreach Coordinator, two Parent Community Liaisons, a Transition Liaison and an additional School Resource Officer. A Substance Abuse Counselor for Revilla High would also be hired.
Martin made it clear that he wants to see intervention at an early age, "We want to get kids in school at an early age and make them successful. Parents of children that are not attending preschool or a Head Start Program would work with the Outreach Coordinator to get the children started on the right path. A workshop for Parents as Teachers would also assist young children."
Martin said, "Older kids that have been in trouble or have been sent to the Ketchikan Regional Youth Facility don't usually return to school, they think, why bother. The Transition Liaison will address this problem. By getting these kids back in school, they can eventually graduate."
For older kids who think they can't go to college, there's always Tech School. As Martin said, "It's the hottest thing, they don't need to go through four years of college when they can go to a Tech School for two years and then get a good job."
Martin brought up the No Child Left Behind program and stated the obvious, "Schools can't work the program if the kids don't come to school and it's up to us to get them there."
The next chamber luncheon will be February 01, 2006, at the VFW, 3113 Tongass Ave. Pat Cassin will be speaking about his efforts in locating property for Pacific Sun Products, a Sea Urchin Company out of Ventura California. There will also be a brief Presentation from visiting Representatives' from St. Jude's Children's Hospital.
Marie L. Monyak is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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