Wrangell’s School Board candidates (top row left to right) Angela Allen, Brittani Robbins, and Jessica Whitaker
(bottom row left to right) Alex Angerman, Elizabeth Roundtree, and Julia Ostrander.
(Angerman – KSTK file photo, Ostrander – courtesy of the Wrangell Sentinel, remaining photos courtesy of the candidates,)

Read KSTK’s other local election coverage here.

Wrangell’s municipal election will take place on October 5, and three school board seats will be on the ballot: two full-term (3-year) seats, and one unexpired (1-year) seat. 

Six candidates are contesting for the seats. 

Brittani Robbins, Alex Angerman, Angela Allen, and Elizabeth Roundtree are running for one of the two open full-term seats. 

Julia Ostrander and Jessica Whitaker are running against each other for the unexpired (1-year term) seat. 

KSTK asked each of the candidates four questions. Read their answers and listen to KSTK’s radio summary below.

Question One: What motivated you to want to run for Wrangell’s School Board?

Brittani Robbins: There’s a lot behind my motivation. I have kids in the elementary school, and my daughter will be in middle school next year. In my experience working there for two years, I saw a lot of things that could use adjustment, or just things that could be different. The kids deserve an environment where they feel safe and where they feel heard, and the parents deserve that too. And what I noticed is that the parents and students don’t get heard, or at least not as much as they should. That’s my focus.

Alex Angerman: The main reason why I wanted to run for Wrangell School Board was to gain the experience of a school board, as well as support my local community, student and teacher body.

Angela Allen: I have three children ranging from ages 16, 14, and six, so I have a junior, a freshman and a first-grader. For years, I’ve been involved with the school as far as the Parent Advisory Committee. I organize and run the Hooligan Reading Fair Race at elementary school every year. And I just felt like now’s a good time in my life and my children’s for me to be involved with the school board.

Elizabeth Roundtree: My kids. And the other kids, my Girl Scouts.

Julia Ostrander: Ultimately, it comes down to my two children. I want to make sure that they have everything they need to succeed, as well as the rest of the children in Wrangell.

Jessica Whitaker: I’ve served on different public boards before; I’ve been on our local Wrangell Cooperative Association Board and on the Wrangell Chamber of Commerce before. I’ve also sat in on the Policy Committee for the school board and Parent Advisory Committee in the past, and I have two kids that are in the Wrangell Public School District, one in elementary school and one in middle school, currently, so just kind of getting an idea of some of the different things that are going on within the school district. I also coached high school and middle school volleyball throughout the school district, so have some intimate experience with working within the school district. So just kind of looking at the different things that are affecting the school board, the school district, especially the low census over the last year because of COVID — what that’s gonna look like for the budget, and then this year, my kids went back into school. So I want to make sure like, ‘Okay, how do we get the enrollment up? How do we make sure kids stay in the school as much as possible, and be able to hang on to the teachers that we have,’ because we have some great quality teachers. So just kind of looking at it from that perspective, and make sure that we can keep the kids and the staff as safe as possible through this pandemic.

Question Two: How do you feel Wrangell Public Schools’ COVID mitigation practices have been effective, or ineffective? How do you feel about the masking policy at the schools?

Brittani Robbins: I’m glad they have a mitigation plan. I think that there have been successes: a bus driver ended up testing positive and not a single child got it when they were all masked up. So that’s kind of a little, practical, hands-on, we can see that this helped. I do, however, wish — and I know that it can’t change drastically due to contracts and stuff — But I do wish there was a little bit of leniency when we’re in low to medium where the parent has a choice in [masking]. And I mean, obviously, if we’re in the red, mask up, but if we’re in that low to medium area, I think we really should give parents some sort of value in what their children do, or their decisions for their children. So I’m glad we have a mitigation plan. I’m glad it’s a working mitigation plan. I just don’t know how much working can go into it, considering contracts with the state.

Alex Angerman: So far, so good. The entire last year was a really great experience with the pods, being able to shut down only one of the pods while the rest kept on trucking. I know that the teachers and students seem pretty happy with the whole thing, and there weren’t very many issues going on. So I think that it’s been pretty successful so far. [KSTK: How do you feel about the mask policy?] I feel that the school’s masking policy is necessary for students to stay with their peers in a safe manner. And I think that with the feedback that I’ve heard from students, it is not as big of an issue as some may think.

Angela Allen: Oh, there’s definitely places that they should have done different. And I think that the community — a majority of people that I’ve spoken to really — feel like our mitigation plan is very flawed, especially the current board and how they carried out getting that approved and everything. So there’s definitely some changes that could be made there. [KSTK: Do you support the schools masking policies specifically?] As it stands right now? No. I feel like our school is a COVID-free slash symptom-free school. And if our kids are not going to be permitted to go to school with any symptoms unless cleared by a doctor, or obviously with a positive COVID test, I don’t see how having the masking is benefiting them or even the town as a whole. As far as our case counts, though, it hasn’t seemed like there’s been very many young children in town that have had the COVID that would be sharing it with other people. As long as the travel mandates are followed and are testing people as they have symptoms as instructed, having the children mask in school is kind of a moot point, especially when we have no cases in town, or there are less than five.

Elizabeth Roundtree: I think they’re doing the best they can with what they’ve been given. I think there’s room for improvement. But I mean, there’s also a lot of things that they’re doing that are good. They have the kids’ best interests at heart. I know that much. [KSTK: How do you feel about the masking policy at the school specifically?] I think it’s for the greater good. I don’t necessarily 100% agree with it personally. But my personal opinion is not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about what’s best for the community and the children.

Julia Ostrander: They definitely have succeeded in the fact that we haven’t had any outbreaks in the school. I definitely have my opinions about the masking policies and things like that. Overall, I think that when we have cases in town, it’s a good idea to be cautious, and mask. I also feel like our children lack different things when we are wearing the mask, though. They can’t learn facial expressions and things like that, and so I just think we need to have a good plan for when we have cases, when it’s a high risk for our kids, and protect them in every way we can, when that’s the case. And when it’s not the case, then maybe let them have a little more freedom. [KSTK: Do you take issue with the masking policy, then?] I wouldn’t say that I take issue with it. I just want to see that we update it regularly. Make sure that we’re on top of that, and not just blindly doing it.

Jessica Whitaker: I think over the last year, they had a pretty strict COVID mitigation plan, they were taking temperatures, they were doing a lot of different things. And the new superintendent came in, Mr. Burr, and he looked over that policy, he’s actually simplified it quite a bit and is expecting the parents to do a bit more of that screening of your kids — symptom-free school district still, which I think should have always been in place, right? We’d have a lot less colds going around the school if we parents would just say, ‘Okay, I’m not sending my kids to school, even though I know they’re not in the best condition.’ So I think that mitigation has been very helpful for the school district in keeping the kids in school. And then the masking obviously — that’s at the recommendation of the CDC, the American Pediatrics Association is recommending masking in the school district. And I think they’re just following what resources they have, as well as looking region-wide and statewide at what we’re doing and what’s effective. I talked to the superintendent briefly about learning from other districts because the Mat-Su Valley decided to go to school mask-free at the beginning of the school district and quickly had to turn around and go virtual. They couldn’t even get enough bus drivers to get the kids to school because of COVID outbreaks. So it’s like, let’s look at these other people in the first few weeks, because this is a new variant. So it’s not the same as what we had last year, so we can think that we learned everything last year, but COVID is proving us wrong time and time again. So I think the school district’s been very creative and adjusting and pivoting to the different unfortunate circumstances they keep getting dealt. 

Question Three: What do you think is the greatest problem facing the school district, and how do you think the school board might be able to help address that problem?

Brittani Robbins: The district needs a reworking from the ground up. I don’t think there’s one major issue. I think it’s all got issues, you know, the facilities are kind of falling apart. That needs a big change. The gym carpet predates me. And the fact that there’s even carpet in the gym is pretty disgusting, in my opinion. They eat in there, they sweat in there. Other things happen, other bodily fluids that, you know, no one wants to sit on, no matter how many times you shampoo it. So the facilities really need an upgrade. Training is huge. I know that when I was hired and several people that were hired the same year as me, we got zero professional development. A rule would get broken that we didn’t know was a rule. And so that needs to change: the professional development specifically for classified staff. The administration needs to kind of change how they run things, although I hear good things about what’s coming up next year with the new superintendent, who I’m really excited about. I actually put in my anonymous vote for him when he was interviewed with the school board. I’ve met with him a few times, and I really like him. So my hope is it can stay that way.

Alex Angerman: I think that the school could always use more emotional support, especially during the pandemic for students, coming from all of the student body and teachers alike. It’s just a time for us all to come together and see that some of the separating and political issues that a lot of the students see from an outside perspective, may go into the school day. And so I think that the school needs to come together and just realize that we’re one community and that we can work together to make things a great experience for the students.

Angela Allen: Well, I think that there’s two sides to everything, and just getting everybody to work together so that everybody can have a comfort level and how things are being handled, whether it’s the masking or the facilities or anything like that, just making sure that everybody can get on that same page, you know, whatever side of the fence they stay on. [KSTK: So then the biggest issue would be communication, then?] Communication, yes. And just making sure that everybody is in the know of the policies and why they are that way, and what can be done to change them.

Elizabeth Roundtree: I think one of the biggest ones is trust. Trust in the school board, trust in the administration, not the current administration, per se, but there were a lot of issues with the previous superintendent. So I think that building more trust between the school board and the community is needed. [KSTK: How do you feel like the school board can help with that?] Being more open to petitions and just listening and trying to be a voice more for the parents and the kids and less for the teachers.

Julia Ostrander: That’s a lot of the reason why I’m running is because I think, right now, the school district is losing children. I mean, they’ve gained a few back this year. But we are not back to what we were pre-COVID. And I feel a lot of that is because parents don’t feel like they’re being listened to, the community doesn’t feel like they’re being heard. We have the taxpayers that are paying for the school district, and we need to be accountable to them. So the school district, and me being a part of the board. That would be my goal is to be accountable to the community, make sure our kids are getting a good education, and listen to the parents, the families, everybody, and make sure everybody’s being heard and be that voice for them.

Jessica Whitaker: I think obviously the budget with the low census and students being in the school district last year, that’s going to take a toll. The school district was already having a difficult time prior to that happening to them with financial issues. They have had to ask the city for money over the last few years to help kind of supplement their programming. I think that there are creative ways to try to find more funding for the school district. I’m really glad to see that the census has bounced back up this year to allow for some more federal funding, looking at different grant opportunities. A lot of the buildings — I went to school here my entire life — they’re the same buildings I attended school in, and they need some repair and some love and some upgrades. I think they’re doing the best with what they have, but trying to find other solutions to make it a safer and more inviting environment. I really was intrigued by Jacob Allen’s senior project last year for the high school and his getting a more homey type of feel to the school halls including artwork and plants throughout the building. I think if we can spread that around throughout the school district — I know the younger kids would enjoy that, the middle school also needs some of that love, although I did see more artwork in there because my kid’s in middle school this year, so I walked through the halls [and saw that], but I think things like that will just make it a more welcoming environment for the students especially since they’re already dealing with other changes that are causing them stress. 

Question Four: What would you say to the average Wrangell voter to explain why they should vote for you, instead of another candidate for school board? 

Brittani Robbins: I have a stake in the school. I have kids in the school. I’m working on a Master’s in Education Leadership. I did drop that off a little bit, at the end of my time at the public schools, just due to certain things, but I’m planning on picking that back up. That doesn’t mean I’ll actually necessarily work in education because I love being at the Chamber. But it was a goal that I set. And if I set a goal, I want to reach it. And I think that I have a strong voice. I don’t give up and I really feel like I can be a good voice for the parents and the students.

Alex Angerman: I will use the card that I think that I’m the youngest candidate that is running for school board, so that may have students talking to me more comfortably than talking to another school board candidate. I also have two brothers and other family members who are currently enrolled in the school. I obviously want them and the rest of the student body to thrive. I have a mom that’s a teacher, and though I won’t get to vote on stuff that directly affects her, of course, I still want to see the best for all teachers that are at Wrangell Public School District. And I want to make my dad proud, he was the [school board] president for quite a while, so I definitely see myself being inspired, learning a lot, and just working hard for the community.

Angela Allen: I feel like — being as involved with the community as I have been for all of my time here, especially having children [in the district] for 16 years, I feel like I’m a positive input. And that I want to be able to listen to everybody and just get everybody to work together to come up with something that meets everyone’s needs and standards.

Elizabeth Roundtree: I hate that question. I really do, I hate that question. A lot of the people that are running for school board, in my opinion, are good options. Like I know Jessica Whitaker’s running, she’s great, Brittani’s great. The only one I don’t really know is Alex Angerman, but I mean, she’s so young, that she still kind of has the ear of the community and knows what it’s like to be a student at the same time. So I can’t really say that there’s a reason. I think no matter who they vote for, they’re going to get somebody good. I just know that I want to be an ear and I want to be a voice for the community. I want them to use me as much as they can.

Julia Ostrander: I would never tell somebody to vote for me. This is about all the children of Wrangell. I want everybody to vote for whoever is the best candidate. We’ve got a lot of good people running. And we all support each other. So I just think: vote for whoever’s best qualified and you think that’s going to do the best job, vote for them.

Jessica Whitaker: I think that people just have to have to look at everything that people are interested in; I think my experience working on boards and being able to be educated on decisions, making choices that are best for, for the larger population of the group, and not just going off of my own personal feelings,  making sure that I understand the complexities of the issues before I speak out about them, or I make a final decision on anything. In my job, I’m very much into policies and procedures, so that’s why I’ve also sat on the policy committee for the school board before because I want to make sure I know why we’re doing the things we’re doing, whether within my work or within the school district and being able to explain those to other people on why we’re making those choices. So I think just being home-grown to knowing the intimacies of the issues that surround Wrangell, what it looks like for student-athletes, what it looks like for non-athletes, making sure we’re keeping our arts programs and things that are important to other children. I think they’re all there’s certain niches of each kind of group, and making sure that we’re meeting the needs of all the groups of the kids, not just a certain demographic of the kids. So I’m very passionate about kids. I volunteer a lot with Parks and Rec, I volunteer with Wrangell Little League. I’ve worked with most of the kids, especially because my kids — I have a fourth-grader and a seventh-grader. So all the kids around them are going through sports. I just want to serve the kids, I want to do what’s best for them and give them the experiences that they deserve in our small community.

Listen to KSTK’s radio summary of candidate interviews, which aired September 24. It does not contain full interviews with the candidates.

Get in touch with KSTK at news@kstk.org or (907) 874-2345.