Cass Karras Pook
How many years have you lived in Sitka and in Alaska? 50 years
Describe your family:
My grandparents are Mark and Annie Jacobs, parents are Pete Karras Sr. and Bertha Karras. I have been married to Stewart Pook for 34 years and we have five children: Cassie, Chloe, Cayla, Seth and Ceder. My husband is the Associate Pastor of Grace Harbor church. Prior to his present job he was the Director of Bill Brady Healing Center and Clinic 2 at SEARHC.
Occupation: I work at SEARHC in the Health Promotions Department under the MSPI Grant, which is METH Suicide Prevention and Intervention. Prior to that, I worked at Ravens Way.
Community involvement, past and present: I work with youth in prevention services, homeless population, and church activities. I am a native artist and a member of the Island Art Gallery and demonstrate beading from time to time at the Sitka National Park and teach classes at Community Schools for youth.
Previous government or other relevant experience: I have served on the Sitka School Board for 17 years and AASB-Alaska Association of School Board members for 4 years, with one year remaining in my term for AASB advocating for quality education. I serve on the June Nelson Scholarship committee and have lobbied at the state for funding and programs.Past boards that I have served on in the community of Sitka are: Tlingit and Haida delegate, Shee Atika scholarship committee and the Friends of Sheldon Jackson board.
Why are you running for the Sitka School Board this year? To continue to advocate for youth and staff for quality education and funding for staff and schools to maintain programs. Re-election to another term will empower me to continue to serve on the AASB and advocate not only at a local level, but at a state level as well. I have years of experience and history of changes that bring strength to the board and have built positive relationships with the community, as well as state level relationships that are key to what we do in our district. Recently, we have focused on Social Emotional Learning in our school. My profession guides me in how to advocate for youth and staff. I would like to see students work at a personal level with personal approach to meet them where they are at and whether struggling or gifted. Although we have done work with the math curriculum, I am aware of the communities emotions over it and am keeping an eye on changes that are being worked through. I will continue to advocate for changes that can be made to make it more adaptable for students, parents and staff.
What are your top two priorities if elected? (1) Continuation of sustaining extracurricular activities and professional development for staff and (2) continuation of keeping the Performing Arts Center open. These programs are the foundation of youth and staff having support and staying engaged in learning.
Describe your leadership style. If elected, what kind of School Board member do you want to be? Do you see yourself introducing policy initiatives, or staying the course? How will you conduct yourself with parents? With the public at large?
Friendly and always open to hearing what people have to say. I am a good listener and am always open to hearing what people have to say. I am calm, but can be aggressive professionally when it comes to something I believe in fighting for that will help in educating our youth. I will stand alone on a vote and that is okay. I have had the privilege of working with a board members that can come together and meet and work as a team that conducts themselves ethically. Decisions that I vote on are always made with the intent of what is in the best interest of the community and the impact that it will make.
We can’t settle for cutting programs for lack of funding. It sends a message that we can do without teachers and programs. I believe in advocating for needs, which are extracurricular programs. They are the foundation of students being successful academically. Without activities students will be less engaged, enrollment will go down and drop out rates will increase. Coast Guard families move to Sitka because of what we have to offer in the Sitka School Distinct, as well as other families coming to Sitka for work. Families have moved here for the PAC. I will continue to strongly advocate for these programs knowing they are the foundation of success. Without an engaging welcoming school, most students will not engage academically to their highest potential. I appreciate the collaboration of organizations to help with the process of sustaining programs and activities in our district.
The Sitka School District is four years into a five-year moratorium on state spending for capital projects. Playground improvements at the elementary schools now top the district’s priority list, when the moratorium ends. Do you agree with these capital priorities, or do you see other critical needs that have been overlooked?
Playgrounds are my top priority for capital improvements. It is important to have safe equipment. I would like the playground to be like a challenge course where teachers can use it not just for play but to challenge them like an adult would be challenged on a challenge course.
Members of the Sitka School Board function as direct advocates for schools in the offices of the Alaska Legislature. What case would you make to legislators to continue strong support of public schools? Or, do you see yourself advocating for more parental choice, and the introduction of vouchers?
I will continue to advocate for funding programs with the message of needs not wants. The legislature tends to see our needs as wants and we need to provide data of need and success to them for adequate funding.
Over the last few years the Sitka School District has incorporated new curriculum at all grade levels to meet Alaska Standards, which are based on the much-debated Common Core. Do you consider this transition to be successful? As a board member, would you support policy to reinforce — or roll back — the trend toward standardization?
I am not fully comfortable with the new curriculum or standards — and am keeping an eye on it and open ear to what other communities that are successful. I think that we have given math too much time and there is more work to be done. Hopefully the hybrid changes will make a difference this year. If not, we will have to take a hard look at it. There is a time to scratch things that are not working and start over.
With standards come standardized testing. Does Sitka do enough? Too much? Is testing an appropriate way to measure student success, or should we be looking at other methods?
Sitka does only what we are mandated to do and no more. Sitka does do enough. We would like to do less testing and more teaching but we have mandates to follow that we have no control over. If we opt out of testing mandates we jeopardize funding for our schools.