SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


We will do anything for our children EXCEPT...
By Al Johnson


May 28, 2007
Monday PM


Geoff Brandt make a kind comment regarding the school board I shared with four other like minded members. We were politically incorrect. We did seek to establish excellence with no excuses.

Individually we did deep into the background on educational matters. We sought out those teachers and administrators all across the nation and even in foreign countries. We made individual contacts with National and internationally recognized leaders on the subject of reading. They most willingly shared what worked in their area of expertise.

All of this positive data and information formulated a plan to address the year after year 45-50% struggling and failing primary grade children who were eager to learn reading but not being reached.

Our common goal and a board goal was to have 95% of our students exit the third grade reading at grade level or above. It was and is achievable. The plan, put together by Mr. Martin, the recently sacked superintendent and Superintendent of the Year, combined huge amounts of the information gathered by board members away from the table and on our own personal time. We were inspired that the plan as outlined and given to the general public would garner the support of the community. That Ketchikan would be on the map for educational excellence across the State.

What happen? Well, to make something successful, all the parties have to be on board. We had the majority of the board, the administration, and many community members aware what was being offered would be successful for our children.

They and we all know that a child that can not read will suffer a lesser level of educational success than one who can. During our adventure, Commissioner of Public Corrections, Ms. Pugh, addressed the district staff and board. She stated flatly that when schools finished with their students and they could not read at a level to obtain employment or be of community contributor, these young people would, out of necessity, turn to crime or become a burden on the social services of the community. She confirmed that a high number of incarcerated prisoners were illiterate or so substandard in reading ability as to not be a contributor to society in a positive way. As a result the Correction department has to remediate these people at a huge expense, attempting to bringing these non-reading prisoners up to a level that they could survive in society. Every primary teacher in attendance heard this message. She concluded with, every dollar spent in the Department of Corrections remediating these folks, denied those dollars for public education.

We did not have, sufficent support of the district teachers. We did not have the full support of the building principals. Most important we had a good dose of "Me-ism". The teachers union corralled the building PTAs and convinced them that placing the plan we developed into action would deny their children, who were the readers and achievers, in jeopardy as the classroom teacher would be spending more time with the non-reading children. Because their children could read due to attentive parents and happier home life, the thought of children of lesser family life where children are not exposed or nurtured to the degree the successful children are, the PTAs opposed the effort. A classic case of "My child first".

For those that are new to the community and are curious as to why we are having the current educational Brew-ha-ha, an effort to enlighten is made.

When our board hired Mr. Martin, who we knew had an extensive background in primary grade reading, the goal given to him was to develop a plan to address the dropout rate, which included specifically, the 45-50% struggling and failing primary grade children. He indicated, and later demonstrated with his plan, that given three years he felt that he could achieve the 90% goal of primary grade children exiting Third grade reading at or above grade level.

The plan Mr. Martin, the recently sacked superintendent, developed:

(1) Convert Houghtaling to a full primary grade building. Grades Kindergarten through third. All primary children in the district in these grades would be bussed to Houghtaling, with the exception of Point Higgins.
(2) Fully train both the building administrator, and all staff in the curriculum Reading on the Road to Writing a curriculum commonly called "Spalding" , the district had record of the success of this curriculum within the district and research of the curriculum confirmed that astounding results were to be expected and proven with will trained staff. (The district had on board an instructor rated Spalding teacher. She acquired this level at her own expense continually passing on 80-90% of her students reading a grade level of beyond)
(3) Teachers would be "Looped" with their classes. Kindergarten teachers would move with their class into first grade and so on till ending with the third grade.

There it is, a concise sturdy, no nonsense plan that would have developed continued stream of successful students learning to read from the Kindergarten through the third grade, ready to read to learn from the Fourth grade on.

Often we hear the cry to address the dropout rate. There is wringing of the hands, great sighs and every excuse to cover-up the inability of the public educational system to prove successful. The commissioner of public safety, Ms. Pugh was emphatic that the huge numbers of her inmates were dropouts, the same who can not read at a social level to succeed in society.

What is the biggest reason for dropouts? Bored, these children reach a level of education that has them far behind those who can read. They make trouble in the classroom, disrupt the halls, and in general are in trouble. I know, because I was one. Till a Fourth grade teacher addressed my inability to read and held me back, much to the chagrin of my University graduated Mother, that her trust in the system had a failing child. I was held back and Ms. Hughes, taught me with phonics. Then there was no holding me back! I am not unique in this; it is a common situation for a large number of struggling and failing students. They need more. Spalding gives that to them and all students. There are other mitigating issues that contribute to the dropout rate; however learning to read will lessen using those excuses. If 90% of the children are able to read, what other issues cloud the goal? I submit none, other than the severely handicapped child.

Our board was attempting to address this issue while struggling with the common community standard that we will do anything for our children EXCEPT change an adult's schedule.

We were asking for adult parents indulgence in our attempt to present to the general public what, we believed was the intent of public education. That ALL students are given the opportunity to achieve to the best of their ability.

Our board did not fail the children, the community chose to fail the board, hence our recall based on unfounded and unproven allegations.

Sad and tragic, and now Mr. Martin, the author of the plan and scourge of the current board save a couple members, has been sacked.

He can hold his head up high, the five of us certainly do. We were recalled not for some flimflam allegation, but for doing what was right for our community children.

I thank Mr. Brandt for his recognizing that effort.


A.M. (Al) Johnson
The Pencil Man
Ketchikan, AK

Received May 27, 2007 - Published May 28, 2007

About: "Recalled school board member."


Related Viewpoint:

letter Ketchikan school board has sure deteriorated By Geoff Brandt



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Ketchikan, Alaska