Andrew Kenneth Hames
How many years have you lived in Sitka and in Alaska? 25
Family: My wife, Kristin, is a piano teacher and runs her studio, Piano Studio 88, out of our home. Our three children are growing too fast, and they all attend schools in the Sitka School District. Our son, Justin, is in 7th grade at Blatchley Middle School. Our daughters, Morgan and Molly, are in 5th grade at Keet Gooshi Heen, and 1st grade at Baranof Elementary School, respectively. We live on Edgecumbe Drive with our dog, Philly, who enjoys barking.
Occupation: My degree is in Music Education, and I taught high school and middle school in Blackfoot, Idaho for six years. While living in Idaho, I spent every summer in Sitka teaching choir and musical theater at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp. Seven years ago, I moved home and began learning the grocery business. I am now the Store Director at Sea Mart Quality Foods.
Community involvement, past and present:
Whenever I have the opportunity, I love being involved with anything related to the Fine Arts. I have hosted, performed, and taught at various fundraising events for GSAC/Sitka Community Theater (host and performer at Broadway Night, Music Director for spring musicals), and Sitka Fine Arts Camp (performer at Jazz on the Waterfront and the rock tribute shows). I also host a weekly radio show, The Happy Hour, on Saturday afternoon on KCAW.
Previous government or other relevant experience:
I learned Robert’s Rules of Order by being active in student government during my time in middle school and high school. I have sat on a couple of different boards as the Artistic Director for the Eastern Idaho Chorale in Idaho Falls, ID, and a board member for the Uncommon Music Festival here in Sitka. My only experience with city government was in 2015 when I was appointed to a seat on the Marijuana Advisory Committee where I served as Vice Chair and assisted in making recommendations to the Assembly for policy and regulation for commercial cannabis legalization. I have lots of experience in both classroom and retail environments working with, and managing, diverse groups of people.
Why are you running for a seat on the Sitka School Board this year?
In short, I have missed being involved in education and I want to make positive contributions to our public school system in Sitka. I feel that my background as a teacher will provide a helpful perspective at the board table while we work together to provide steady direction, leadership, and support to our district staff and students. I am an approachable and calm individual, and I know that my passion for education will make me an active participant and thoughtful listener as a board member. I am fortunate to have been chosen by the school board in June of this year to temporarily fill one of the two vacant seats leading up to this election. This opportunity has given me a valuable “sneak preview” of what being a board member is like, and has briefed me on the main issues, past and present, facing our district in the coming months and years. If elected, I am excited to be able to hit the ground running, and to continue working with this team!
What are your top two priorities if elected?
My first priority is to continue supporting our school staff, students, and parents in efforts to maintain safe environments of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. I want to stay informed and be available to hear their concerns, and to enforce and support flexible policies pertaining to this situation. My second priority is to work with our interim superintendent and district staff to find and interview qualified candidates for a new superintendent for our district. This is an exciting opportunity to gather input from a variety of sources and to set a positive direction for our education community for the coming years.
Do you agree/disagree with the safety thresholds established by the District Office for bringing students back into school? Are they too strict, or not strict enough? As a board member, would you recommend any changes?
The best thing about the Smart Start plan to send students back to school is how it was put together. Our superintendent wisely turned the planning over to the principals in each building and then assigned them to assemble committees consisting of teachers, school board members, parents, and even students in some cases. This allowed discussion and planning unique to each building to take place, while providing a period of time to ask questions and address specific concerns for all involved. The plan also provides options to meet parents and students at their comfort level by offering in-person schooling, an online option, or homeschooling through the REACH program. As a parent, I feel comfortable sending my kids to school each day under the current plan. As a board member, my only recommendation would be to have flexibility to make changes when considering new information, and the plan does allow for that.
Transitioning from Smart Start to ongoing education
The Smart Start plan recommends as much in-class time as possible for student success. If the pandemic continues through the 2020-21 school year, how would you weigh student success against staff safety?
I think we need to expect that the pandemic will be with us in some form or other for the entirety of this school year. Student success cannot happen without a safe learning environment, so the safety of our staff and students is obviously priority number one. I look at safety not just in the physical sense, but mental and emotional as well, and I think the best way to monitor the well-being of our students is through regular interactions between students, staff, and parents. A teacher’s job is always changing and evolving with new developments in methodology and technology, and that is certainly an understatement for what has happened over the last six months. While by no means a complete substitute for in-class learning, we are fortunate to live in a time where there are many ways to easily communicate with one another. As for measuring student success, there will be many definitions of success that are unique to each student, and we need to support our staff to do the jobs they are passionate about doing, which is meeting each student where they are in their learning, and providing a supportive and structured environment in which they can continue to grow and develop.
Should the superintendent hire process move forward under the current circumstances? What are you looking for in a superintendent?
I do not see any benefit in delaying the search for a new superintendent. We are fortunate to have John Holst in the interim position, but I think asking him for more time than he has already agreed to should be a last resort we should not consider at this point. I would argue that the unusual nature of this school year gives the task of hiring a new superintendent even more urgency. The situation is full of “unknown’s,” and knowing what our future leadership looks like will help address many of them.
In a new superintendent, aside from holding relevant qualifications, I am looking for an individual who is excited to live in Sitka, has a positive view of our community in all of its rich diversity, and who is willing to make this their home while seeing the potential for growth in our schools. This person should see the value in collaborating openly with administrative staff, teachers, and parents when setting their vision for directives that affect the learning environment. Mr. Holst shared his view with us that the “center of the district” should not be the District Office, but in the classroom where daily learning takes place. I completely agree with that outlook, and my desire would be to find a person whose actions and leadership style reflect that view.
Historically, the Sitka School Board has been focused on educational equity and closing the achievement gap between Native and non-Native students. How would you keep this issue in your sights during the district’s ongoing pandemic response?
It is critical that we stay engaged and closely monitor the development of our students, especially during this time. The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on inequities throughout our society, and our students who are on the struggling end of the achievement gap deserve our absolute best efforts to help them. This is a task that requires community support and involvement, and I currently see strong partnerships between the Sitka School District and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, and I would want to do everything in my power as a board member to continue to strengthen that partnership. Every situation where a student is struggling will present its own unique challenges that will require continual investment in that student. Those investments will come from teachers, school counselors, cultural programs, inclusive school activities, parent volunteers, and community members inside and outside of school. I will be supportive of policies and programs that support efforts to help all students feel welcome in our school communities and to see their potential to thrive within it, and beyond.
Racial and social justice are part of our national conversation right now. Should education on these issues be incorporated into the district’s curriculum?
Yes. It seems clear to me that the current conversations on racial and social justice issues indicate that as a society there is a lot of listening and learning to still be had. Being dismissive of the voices in these conversations will not allow us to acknowledge or address past and present injustices. Incorporating materials on these issues into the curriculum and then presenting them in a safe classroom environment by qualified and thoughtful instructors who can help lead and guide the discussion would certainly be appropriate.