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School Board Seat C: Amanda Schmahl

Courtesy of Amanda Schmahl

On this year’s ballot for Unalaska’s Municipal Election, there are three open school board seats, but only two have candidates vying for them. Amanda Schmahl is running unopposed for Seat C.

KUCB sat down with Schmahl to hear her take on current district issues and find out more about why she wants to become a school board member.

Take a listen to KUCB’s interview with Schmahl above and find the transcription below. You can also find more information on the Oct. 3 election here.


KUCB: Tell me a little bit about yourself and why you're running for school board. What makes you a good candidate?

SCHMAHL: Yeah, so I moved to Unalaska in 2014 and started working for the city after a few months of being here. I have two sons, one who is in the eighth grade, and another who just started kindergarten this year. And we all love this island. And I love the school. And I wanted to be a part of it, because my oldest son splits his year up in half. He does half of the year down in Seattle, the other half down here. And just seeing the difference between curriculums and the education system between the two schools — now, that's just one school, but seeing the difference between the two of them, it really opens your eyes to how great we have it here. Both like the educators that we get to work with and the community members that are involved in our school, because we're such a small town. He does not enjoy school down south where he goes, but he does love it here because there's so many people involved in his education and his school activities. And I just want to have a bigger part in that.

KUCB: So this question is something that we’ve asked pretty much every year. But the issue of teacher retention seems especially important right now, with, I guess, several longtime teachers retiring, including Jim Wilson, the former high school principal, and some significant turnover among administration over the past couple of years. But the question is, how do you view the issue of teacher retention at Unalaska City School District? And what do you think the district could be doing to better support, keep and recruit staff?

SCHMAHL: That is a good question because there's a lot of turnover. And I mean, we've lost some great teachers that we had forever. And I mean, that happens anywhere — teachers retire and having to replace them. By supporting them, I think it's important. The school, as of now, I believe, has a really good benefits program, it's quite similar to the city's benefits. And keeping that going. And then merit-based pay, also, I think, is really important. And for educators, and I also think for recruitment, housing availability, that seems to be the biggest struggle for any organization on the island — making sure that we have adequate and affordable housing for teachers for when they come out here. And also just giving them as much education about the island and what they're what they're coming to, because I think people sometimes don't understand what they're getting into a lot of the times when they come out here — not the bad parts, all the good parts: how much support you get from community members, and how much support you get from staff in this school and in this district. So for recruitment purposes, showing them how great it would be to work here.

KUCB: And so how do you view the school board's relationship with the school and the community as well? Like, are there areas within the community that you think could be better represented by our district or the board? And I guess, like, what are those areas? And how might you better advocate for the community's needs?

SCHMAHL: I think we have, because we have such a large transient community, we do have a lot of ESL students. And I think I would like to have better outreach to individuals who are just coming into town, who English is their second language, both for the parents and for the children. And just having a bit of outreach with hat portion of our community, because not only will also it will help the children with their education while they're here — however long that may be — but it will also make the parents feel more comfortable about where their kids are going to school and feel more a part of the community. And hopefully we can keep those kids here as long as possible.

KUCB: And that actually is kind of a good segue into my next question, which is focused, I guess a little bit on English language learners. Administration has, over the past year recently discussed, like the issue of learning loss following the COVID-19 pandemic. They've talked about how that's disproportionately affected ELL — English Language Learning — students. I'm wondering how you view this issue, and and how you, as a board member, might help support Unalaska's ELL students, which make up a large portion of the district?

SCHMAHL: Yes. So, coming out, or during COVID, when there was a lot of online instruction and Zoom instruction, it was really difficult for ELL students, and I think there is still, you'll still find a lot of online courses and stuff that make it a little more difficult, but I think it's getting away from from that. And I think it's getting a lot easier. But that was a very difficult time — it was difficult for English first language students over Zoom. And so I think just more in class, and one-on-one. I know it takes a lot. It takes a lot more from the teachers, of course, and it takes a lot more from the community members and aides, but just more one-on-one for ELL students, giving that little extra attention.

KUCB: Yeah, and I guess, how do you see the board's role in making those changes?

SCHMAHL: I know, we talked about this earlier, as far as like staffing and the difficulty of retaining and gaining staff, but additional staff would more than likely be needed. Currently in the elementary school, I know the third and fourth — I just noticed this from doing swim lessons — a few of our classes are quite a bit larger than we're used to. So one teacher for 18 students becomes difficult, especially if you have 10 or 12, over half of them are ELL students. So I think additional aides and classrooms would be helpful — so more staffing, potentially.

KUCB: Okay, thank you. The base student allocation, the BSA, that's barely increased over the past decade. And recently, Gov. Mike Dunleavy made some statewide cuts to school funding, amid some rising costs for education. And UCSD has repeatedly, you know, asked the city for full funding, which it usually gets. But the city is kind of doing some stretching to grant that funding. The district has already made some major budget cuts. But I'm wondering, what ways do you think district officials could keep up with the rising cost of education in Unalaska, especially amid these statewide cuts and stale funding?

SCHMAHL: I think it's also important to look at what grants are available too. I understand that we do have a lot of grants that we fill out. But what other grants could we potentially be using to help with funds? Because it's always sad when school funds get cut. It's usually the fun stuff that gets cut first that keep kids interested in school: sports, arts and culture, those sorts of things. So finding grants that are maybe more directed to those programs, and trying to get more community involvement. I know we do — like a lot of the activity groups, specifically — they do their own type of fundraising, too, but trying to get more community involvement, because, yes, the city is stretched for the amount of money that they're able to fund the school with. So trying to get more community members involved with school funds, raising the funds for school. I wouldn't suggest anything concrete. I know a lot of schools have been implementing fees for certain things to attempt to raise money. I wouldn't suggest anything concrete like that — more along the lines of getting more support, community support — not obligating parents to be paying for anything.

KUCB: Okay, thank you. The school district did receive a little bit of extra funding for activities this year. And that area hasn't had an increase I think in like a decade, Jim had said. What is the importance of having those school activities, the extracurricular activities? And what is your role as a board member in fostering those extracurricular activities?

SCHMAHL: So, importance? That’s easy. You ask your kid, “What was your favorite part of the day?” And they usually say recess or music or PE or practice or whatever. I don't think I've ever had my son say, oh, my gosh, English class was amazing today. Now, that's my, that's my boys and they're very active individuals. So the sports, extracurricular activities, that they have to make grades for, that's what's keeping them getting those grades up. So that's why I feel that they are important. And also just having that physical activity available to them and giving them the opportunity to compete. Competing is not only important just in the sports that they're playing, but it's going to be an important value for them in their life. As someone who's searching for a job, competition is important to have instilled in children, because they'll need it forever and ever and ever. And so there's more than just playing a game that sports teaches kids. So that's important. And then the other extracurriculars — bands, foreign language club, those sorts of things — are giving them a whole nother level of education that they can use forever and ever and ever… and also just different outlets and different ideas of what they can be after they graduate high school. What are other things that they can go into, other degrees that they could be interested in? So it just gives them different ideas of what they can do later on in life?

Sorry, can you repeat the second part of the question?

KUCB: What is your role as a board member in fostering those or helping develop those extracurricular activities?

SCHMAHL: Yes, again, so finding the funding to keep them here. And ways that we can get more kids involved in it, try to get the interest higher. For example, our swim team used to be really, really big. And this season, I think we have 10 kids on our swim team. So interest in some of the sports, and I'm not sure why — I don't know if it was because of COVID because it was post COVID when interest started depleting, and granted my knowledge is very Aquatic Center focused — and so it started to diminish slightly, which is a bummer. So just getting more kids also interested in getting out there and getting away from social media and phones, taking a break from your computer for a bit and doing something with a team and with other individuals. Because teamwork, that's another thing that is very valuable about doing sports.

KUCB: This is a question that we've had come from a community member in the past, and I thought it would be worthwhile bringing up again this year. So the CDC says adolescent girls across the nation face record levels of violence, and teens who identify as LGBTQ+ — lesbian, gay bisexual, trans, questioning and other non-heterosexual identities — they're also experiencing high levels of violence and distress in recent years. Rates of depression, anxiety, self harm and suicide, those have risen among teens recently as well. I'm wondering if … so here's my question: Do you consider this an issue within Unalaska's youth? And what do you think the school board's role is in addressing that crisis among students?

SCHMAHL: I do, I'm going to say, it's not as noticeable maybe as other, some places down south because like I've mentioned before, we have such a tight knit and warming community. And, of course, where I stand, I feel welcoming, but there may be other individuals who don't feel that way. And as a school board member, what I think our role in that, for the students that are at our school, who feel that they have been a victim from these types of situations, having more of an outreach program, potentially for individuals — counseling for individuals — a way to make them feel like they can be who they identify as and feel comfortable being so, and not have to suffer or be a victim of violence, and discrimination. And so coming up with more counseling and outreach programs for individuals.

KUCB: This is really my final question just before I kind of just open it up to you, but it's kind of a broad one — what areas do you think the district could improve? And how could you help make those improvements — I guess, like, in your role as a board member? This is a two sided question: If there maybe aren't improvements, like what are areas that you think the district shines in? And I guess, like, you know, again, still, though, like what is your role as a school board member in supporting those or advocating for those areas?

SCHMAHL: That's the main reason that I want to join the school board … is because I love our school so much, because I love and I want to be a part of it more. Because I think everything that I've been a part of as a mother has always been very enjoyable. I do know that we struggle budget- wise, as all schools do, all public schools struggle with budget. And I was very excited to be a part of that, a part of like developing plans on how we can make things either more affordable for our community members, or how we can raise raise money for our school. I was really excited about that. And I was so excited about learning more about how we are fiscally conservative and how we can make it, how we can make it better — how we can spread the funds more equally. Change-wise, and you did say it earlier — definitely retaining teachers. I didn't notice it so much when I first moved to Unalaska, but I have been noticing it lately : the overturn in educators. So hopefully, devising a plan on how we can keep our teachers here once they get here. It's a such a struggle, not just for the school district, but for the teachers as well — starting over in a whole new school. That first year is more of just like a learning curve and trying to figure things out. And then if they leave after that first year, we're just starting all over again. So teacher retention is very important.

KUCB: Now Yeah, I just want to open it up to you. What are your final thoughts? Are there things that you'd like to share about yourself that you want the community to know that we didn't talk about today, as they go to the polls to vote for school board members.

SCHMAHL: I’m so excited for this opportunity. When I was able to fill in for Seat C, I was super stoked. I really enjoyed my first meeting. It was overwhelming. It was like a giant thick packet that we were going through, but there was so much great information in it. It was really great to be a part of — like a part of it and a part of that decision making. And I just hope that when I'm a part of the school board, I can help the school board make it an enjoyable experience for students and for educators and for community members.