Tristan Guevin takes the oath of office to serve on the Sitka School Board. The three other members (seated) appointed Guevin and Mitch Mork on 3-0 votes. Mork appeared telephonically. (KCAW/Woolsey)

The Sitka School Board is back up to five members. During a special meeting on Wednesday evening (6-15-22) three members of the board unanimously voted to appoint Tristan Guevin and Mitch Mork to fill two vacancies.

Consensus was a bit more difficult to find, however, when it came to selecting the board’s new leadership.

Note: Appointees Tristan Guevin and Mitch Mork will serve until the Sitka Municipal Election in October, when voters will elect candidates to fill the seats, as well as the seat currently held by Paul Rioux, whose term is expiring. Both Guevin and Mork said they would run for their seats in October. Rioux has not yet declared. Candidate filing for School Board and Assembly opens July 18 and closes August 5.

The board interviewed five applicants interested in taking the seats on the Sitka School Board recently vacated by Amy Morrison and Andrew Hames. The slate of candidates brought strong experience to the table, but the board passed over a former paraprofessional (Laurie Serka), a homeschool mom of ten years (Sarah Harris), and a former Sitka mayor (Valorie Nelson) to appoint Tristan Guevin and Mitch Mork.

During his interview, Guevin, a former Sitka Assembly member, said that education and public policy were two of the major interests in his life.

“For me, public education is so fundamental to our society,” he said. “Both in terms of a functioning democracy, but also that element of egalitarianism that the United States represent that everybody, no matter kind of what circumstances you’re born into, you have the same opportunity as everybody else. And I think, in my mind, education is the thing that is most important to guarantee that.”

Guevin brought an extensive resume of roles he’s held within the community, involving work for the Tribe, the Sitka Native Education Program, the University, and the Sitka Fine Arts Camp.

Guevin is the current vice-chair of the city’s Health Needs and Human Services Commission. In response to the board’s question about the role of school board members, Guevin made it clear that it was not to interfere in the classroom. 

“You’re at that high level, you don’t want to get into the details,” said Guevin. “The administration, the teacher staff, they know what they’re doing. They’re experts in this. They spend 40-plus hours of their week doing this, and as school board members, or as elected officials, we’re not spending that kind of time, we don’t have that level of expertise, or rather that level of involvement. So yeah, I think (the role of the board) it’s helping us set that vision, it’s supporting the superintendent and working with the superintendent to troubleshoot or figure out how we can improve things. Or if we’re doing things right, how do we just grow that?”

Mitch Mork appeared by phone and offered succinct answers to the interview questions, reflecting his background as a facilities engineer. In his career he said he had worked on projects worth $200 million, and found $20 to 30 million in savings by “challenging assumptions.”

“Basically, I dig into the details, and I challenge assumptions, and come up with middle ground ideas, generally about how they work,” he said.

Mork said he loved kids, and currently volunteers teaching Math at Keet Gooshi Heen, where one of his children attends. His other child is at Blatchley. Mork also coaches youth sports. He said he is a believer in teamwork.

“I don’t claim to be the best communicator,” Mork said. “But again collaboration, that’s what I’ve spent the last 12 to 15 years doing, working on teams, coming up with plans, decisions, and policies. That’s my answer.”

Both Guevin and Mork were nominated in motions from member Todd Gebler, and supported by Paul Rioux and Blossom Teal-Olsen. Rioux said he was looking for a candidate to fill the shoes of Andrew Hames, who had represented the board in the district’s strategic planning. Since Guevin had also participated in the process, Rioux thought he was a good fit. Blossom Teal-Olsen said that in particular, she was looking for an applicant who had gone through the Sitka school system, and Mork fit the bill. Both applicants were appointed unanimously.

Since he wasn’t physically present, Mitch Mork could not be sworn in immediately. Only Guevin took the oath, and once he was seated the board elected officers by secret ballot.

After one tie, Blossom Teal-Olsen was elected president of the board on the second ballot. After three ties, Todd Gebler was elected vice-president on the fourth ballot. Paul Rioux was elected secretary on the first ballot.