In their own words: School Board Seat A Candidate Keith Morrison
NN: What are your qualifications and why do you want to run for school board?
Keith Morrison: Nome became my home in 2009. I fell in love with this community and all the potential it has to offer all people. My commitment to Nome is long-term. I am the stepfather to two boys currently enrolled, and one Nome Public School alum. I also have a granddaughter who will be educated in this district. My family is deeply rooted in this community and I’m invested in our success.
Aside from my own family, I’ve worked with a cross-section of youth in varying roles I’ve had here. When working and volunteering with our youth, I’m committed to affirming their value and ensuring they have what they need to feel successful. Success means different things for different people and I hope to help create an environment that fosters success for all.
I’ve also been engaged in a statewide effort to embed equity in the education system; through policy, community engagement, and dialogue. This project has allowed me to reflect on the impact the education system has on our children and what we need to work on together to ensure we honor our children, their families, and their cultures. In America, our education system works for many, but not for all.
I believe I can use my experience, both as a parent and someone who has engaged in this collaborative statewide initiative, to serve the school, educators, students and families of the Nome Public Schools.
NN: Describe your experience with education in Nome and highlight the changes you like to see in the Nome School District.
Keith Morrison: My first job when I arrived in Nome was working as a substitute teacher. There seemed to be a wide range in proficiency of the students. It would be easy put the blame of this gap in many different places. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that there are many different reasons for these gaps, and we have the responsibility to understand the impact of our community’s past, identify solutions, and create policy to support student success. I think the school board has started on this work, and I would honored to be part of continuing the support of this positive change.
In my first years in Nome, I also became friends with educators in our schools. A consistent theme rang true from the conversations. Changing leadership and testing requirements continued to hold students back from making significant gains. Changing leadership compromised the school’s relationship with the community and being overly focused on testing requirements narrowed the focus from individual student achievement to collective outcomes. Teachers also expressed having challenging time with uncertainty in contracts and ongoing changes in expectations.
When I joined my family, my stepdaughter was a sophomore, and my stepsons were in 5th and 2nd grade. Each of them has different needs from the school system. With all three I saw where the school impacted more than just their educational growth. They built meaningful relationships with their educators, grew and expanded in their thinking, and the school impacted how they feel about themselves. Nome School District has a real opportunity to be responsive to our student population and their families, in an effort to build a district that reflects them and how they see the world.
In the United States, we have a very narrow focus on how education is delivered and we have the opportunity to look at other education systems to improve our own. By identifying other proven models used throughout the world, we may then have the opportunity to implement them in a holistic and progressive way that would benefit the entirety of our student body. Some of the ideas are simple to implement. For example Greenland has learned that indigenous students are more successful in learning concepts when they have a hands on application of a concept first, then covering the concept material after. I would love the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and see if these types of concepts can be implemented here in Nome.
NN: Recent release of the PEAKS test scores showed a low level of Nome students’ proficiency in language and math. How do you propose to improve this performance?
Keith Morrison: A plan for increased achievement should also include meaningful professional development for our educators and engaging meaningfully with families in an effort to make our schools are more welcoming.
I don’t think standardized testing is a huge benefit to our students. I think we should explore other ways to monitor proficiency. The focus should be around making sure our students are getting the best education they can receive so they can be productive and successful citizens of the world. We must always be aware that success is not measured by tests, but by how you engage in it. We need a district where kids are engaged and where their success is the priority for all.
NN: Budget constraints are to be expected as the state budget contracts annually. How do you propose the school district for decreasing budget realities as costs rise?
Keith Morrison: With each passing year, providing meaningful education in rural Alaska will become increasingly more challenging due to budget constraints. I believe this is a challenge we are ready to face. Every stakeholder of Nome Public Schools will have to participate in, increased advocacy and use of community expertise to continue enhancing our school system.
Our voice as a community has been diminished through redistricting. This makes it challenging for rural communities to have their needs met equitably by the State Legislature. This means we really need to ensure we are partnering with advocacy agencies to ensure rural school districts are funded fairly. Nome School District has a strong relationship with the Alaska Association of School Boards, which currently advocates for education in our state. I believe we need to find other ways to partner with other rural schools to strengthen our voice and align our messages at both the State and Federal level. It would be worthwhile to see where we can reduce duplication and use our community members and agencies as resources for our students.
We should be empowered to create a system that allows members of our community to bring their expertise and wisdom into our classrooms. How great would it be to see an Elder in our Alaska History class, offering their insight on the impacts of the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act, or the Boarding School era, or Statehood? We have historians in Nome, but we haven’t yet created a resource for educators to invite guests or created space for people to share their knowledge regularly in our classrooms.
NN: What are your thoughts for improving recruitment efforts to find and keep new teachers?
Keith Morrison: We have the opportunity to create short and long-term solutions that will improve recruitment and retention of our teachers. In the short term we can build better relationships with higher education systems that have programs, which prepare teachers to work in our unique environment. We should also continue focusing our recruiting efforts on finding people who have similar lived experiences as our student body and who are looking for an opportunity to create a life within our community.
Recruitment and retention are closely connected. Nome School District might benefit from sending people, who teach and live here, to assist in recruitment for positions. It would also be great to utilize community members in helping with the selection process of new teachers in the same way we use community members when hiring new leadership in the district.
Over the long term, we need to be looking at our own alum and fostering their skills through mentorship and investment in higher education, so we can have more of our own teaching our students. This will require us to identify who those students are and how we can better engage them, while still in our district. There are programs in our state that are designed to promote and engage Alaskan and Alaska Native people within the education system such as the PITAAS program which helps fund undergraduate and graduate education students. We need to focus our efforts inside our school and create job ladders for and with our graduates.