Meet the 2017 School Board Candidates

The City of Valdez Municipal Election is May 2nd, 2017

KVAK Radio asked the candidates running for the Valdez City School Board  to tell us a little bit about themselves and share their thoughts on several questions.  Find below their exact responses as provided to KVAK Radio.

There are four vacancies available on the Valdez City School Board.


Tammy Holmes

Hi!  My name is Tammy Holmes and I am interested in serving on the Valdez City School Board.  I was born and raised in Alaska, grew up in Kenny Lake and moved to Valdez during middle school, where I graduated

from VHS.  I graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the University of Nevada Reno prior to returning home to Valdez.  I have two daughters; one in middle school and one in high school.  I also have several nieces and nephews in the Valdez school system.   After graduating from college I chose to move back to this amazing town and truly believe it is a wonderful place to raise a family.

Question #1:  What are three main challenges for Valdez City Schools in the next five years? As a potential school board member, how do you plan to address these challenges?

BUDGET:  Due to the decline in revenue, I want to help ensure we make the most of the funds we have available for our students and teachers.

CURRICULUM:  Want to ensure our curriculum keeps up with national standards and that it flows smoothly from one semester to the next, year after year. And that our graduates are prepared for the next step after graduation.

Question #2:  What experience do you have with budgeting, and managing people and finances?

I previously served several years on the Board of Commissions for the City of Valdez, Parks and Recreation, to include Chairman of the board. During this time I was able to gain some understanding of the City of Valdez budget and get a bigger picture of the timing, requirements and restraints that are put on the different entities of our town. During my 21 years of employment with Alyeska Pipeline I have held many roles to include the responsibilities of budgeting, and supervising personnel.

Woody Woodgate

My wife and I met, built a log cabin in Fairbanks, and then for almost twenty years we moved with our four children to different villages and cities in Alaska for our careers. After selling the log cabin twelve years ago, we bought land in the Copper River Basin.  Since then, we spent almost every summer visiting Valdez until moving here a couple of years ago for our children to finish school.  Our family loves the small town feel of Valdez, access to the many outdoor adventures, and the quality and stability of the school district. I look forward to watching my children grow up and graduate from Valdez High School.  The experience I bring to the VCSD School Board includes a degree in Biology from UAF, Masters in Curriculum from UAF, Masters in Math Education from UAS, professional certificate in Educational Leadership from UAA and my Superintendent certificate that will be completed this summer through UAS.   I have lived and worked in many areas of rural Alaska.  I worked for the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development in Juneau and currently work for Prince William Sound College.

Question #1:  What are three main challenges for Valdez City Schools in the next five years? As a potential school board member, how do you plan to address these challenges?

One of the first tasks coming before the school board will be to find a Superintendent.  VCSD has been fortunate to have excellent leadership these past three years. We’ll have our work cut-out for us to replace him with someone who meets the high standards set forth by the Valdez community.  Secondly, we need experienced people guiding the district to maximize the resources coming into our district with the financial crisis at the state level.  I support working together to craft fiscally responsible budgets without gutting instruction and activities that are important for keeping students motivated to learn.  Lastly and most importantly, I support a public education model that promotes students in the community to attend school, learn, and play together. This is a volatile time for education and as a school board, we have an opportunity to provide input into our state plan for how our current laws and future laws are interpreted.  As a school board member, I will work with the Superintendent, fellow board members, parents, students, school staff, community members, and the City Council to keep the focus on our children’s education.

Question #2:  What experience do you have with budgeting, and managing people and finances?

In regards to budgeting and finances, I was the Treasurer for the Goldstream Valley Lions Club in Fairbanks, Treasurer for the Juneau Family Health & Birth Center, and currently I am the Treasurer of the Valdez United Way.  I have managed a 5-year $3.2M Alaska Department of Education grant certifying new teachers and a 3-year $1.5M grant promoting place-based cultural curriculum in IASD. As part of my job at PWSC, I am the principal investigator for a $78K Adult Basic Education grant, a $60K grant from Department of Labor to bring teachers to Valdez this summer for math instruction, and a 3-year $60K grant to provide Allied Health Care instruction for concurrently enrolled students, including more than 45 students attending Valdez High School.  I have managed employees as part of previous jobs and find the best way to manage is to start by actively listening.  As a school board member, I look forward to seeing and talking with students, community members and district staff and then working with the Superintendent and other school board members to do what is best for all children in the district.

Jamie Winchester

Jamie Winchester attended Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Institute of Music, with majors in biomedical engineering and music performance. She has worked in cardiovascular research, music education, entertainment management, and environmental health at the local, state, and federal levels.

Ms. Winchester moved to Valdez in 2009 when she took the position of Environmental Health Officer with the State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC). While working for ADEC, she travelled extensively throughout the state, conducting school, food establishment, public bathing facility, and fisheries inspections.

While raising her two daughters, Callie Jane and Phoebe Ann, with her husband, Kit, Jamie feels that it is important to help our community grow and improve in a tangible way. She serves on the board of the Valdez Imagination Library, which brings monthly free books by mail to all Valdez children from ages zero to five (go to to enroll!). She is also a member of the board of the Valdez Preschool, which fosters a cooperative approach to early childhood education.

Jamie is excited for the opportunity to serve Valdez on another level as a member of the School Board, and welcomes questions and discussion on any school topics.

 Question #1:  What are three main challenges for Valdez City Schools in the next five years? As a potential school board member, how do you plan to address these challenges?

  1. Financial insecurity at the local, state, and federal levels. Locally, property valuation fluctuation has a major annual impact on school budgeting. Statewide, oil tax profits are falling and many social and educational program budgets are on the chopping block. The potential losses are a constant battle, and it is important to review every expenditure carefully. We must streamline our budgets, while maintaining the services and programs that have been proven successful in preparing our children.
  2. Moving targets of requirements, standards, and testing. The current federal administration’s leaning toward defederalization gives us the opportunity, at both the state and local levels, to refocus on what is important for our children. We live in a unique community, and our students deserve an educational experience that includes the preparation necessary for their success while maximizing the usage of our amazing local resources.
  3. Technology is amazing, and, as a parent, terrifying. Teachers and parents alike battle cell phones, tablets, computers, and video games on a daily basis. We need to work to ensure that our students have all of the tools they need to succeed in this technology based world, but maintain a balance with the world outside the screen.

Question #2:  What experience do you have with budgeting, and managing people and finances?

My work in local and state government has given me extensive experience managing budgets in multi-disciplinary programs with dedicated funding sources, and finding ways to maximize available resources to maintain and expand program offerings.

Through the International Food Protection Training Institute Fellowship in Food Safety program and supported by ADEC, I published a paper covering my field research and analysis regarding risk analysis as a method of prioritizing limited financial and human resources, specifically in rural Alaska. These basic tenets of risk analysis and control can be used in school budgeting as well, through identifying the proven successful programming, staffing, facility, etc. and basing decisions on thoughtful research.


Alan Sorum

Alan Sorum and his wife Ruth Knight are residents of the City of Valdez. They have enjoyed living and working in Alaska for nearly 27 years. Alan and Ruth own and operate a small business in Valdez, Alpine Garden and Hearth.  Alan is currently employed by the Prince William Sound RCAC as their Maritime Operations Project Manager. Sorum is a past City Manager of the Municipality of Skagway, worked as Director of Training at Prince William Sound Community College and the former Port Director and Harbormaster of Valdez, Alaska. Alan represents the Alaska Association of School Boards in efforts by the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition to encourage funding of the Secure Rural Schools Program.  Sorum is an alumnus of the University of Alaska Southeast and Fairbanks with advanced degrees in Public Management and Rural Development. Currently he is an adjunct facility member with the University of Alaska Southeast in Sitka. Alan is currently a member of the School Board, Valdez Fisheries Development Association Board of Directors and the Valdez Ports and Harbors Commission.

 Question #1:  What are three main challenges for Valdez City Schools in the next five years? As a potential school board member, how do you plan to address these challenges?

  1. I have seen the effect a superintendent has on the performance of our schools. During his most recent evaluation, Superintendent Nygaard notified the Board of his intention to retire. We have 15 months to find a capable replacement for our chief administrator which will be difficult.
  2. School funding is in distress and uncertain. The City provides significant support to the schools. During recent settlements, the funding that they can provide has been reduced. At the state level, education continues to be a bargaining chip for our Senate and the potential exists for further cuts before this session ends. Nationally, the President has proposed a 13% cut to educational funding. A budget has not been passed by Congress, so our federal support remains uncertain.
  3. The first two challenges for the schools leads to the third issue, preparing our children to be successful in furthering their education, taking their place as productive citizens in our society and being prepared for their future careers. Addressing this challenge takes multiple efforts and commitments from the community. Among these efforts are support for career and technical education, professional development of teachers, and working with our local college to provide dual-credit courses.

Question #2:  What experience do you have with budgeting, and managing people and finances?

As detailed in my biography, my personal, educational and professional experience makes me well suited to serve on the School Board. I worked my way up from the docks to be a Harbormaster, Port Director and City Manager. This entailed extensive budget preparation work, dealing with the public and supervising many employees. I worked as Director of Training at the Prince William Sound Community College and have a strong background in career and technical (vocational) education.

My formal education includes an undergraduate degree in Aeronautical Science, with advanced degrees in Public Administration and Rural Development. This includes formal coursework in the public budgetary process and financing. I currently work with the University of Alaska Southeast in Sitka to teach development courses for harbor employees.

I currently serve and have served in the past on many boards and commissions at all levels of government. I am a past member of the Valdez City Council, seeking re-election for the third time with the School Board and a member of the Valdez Ports and Harbors Commission. Locally I am a member of the Valdez Fisheries Development Association Board and nationally work with the Alaska Association of School Boards on federal school funding issues.


 Cara Bourne

My name is Cara Bourne and I am running for a position on the Valdez School Board. I was raised in Valdez and am a graduate of Valdez High School. I have four children, two attend Gilson Middle School and the other two will be enrolled at Hermon Hutchens in the fall, one in Kindergarten and one in Preschool, and my nieces and nephew attend Valdez High School.

 Question #1:  What are three main challenges for Valdez City Schools in the next five years? As a potential school board member, how do you plan to address these challenges?

Budget: Budget will always be a challenge for any school district. As revenue declines, decisions need to be made that are in the best interest of students and staff without compromising the level of education each child receives, and that means maintaining the staff size to keep a low student to teacher ratio that Valdez schools have always been able to maintain, even as the budget changes.

Special Education: With recent political changes, Special Education has been in the spotlight for the past several months. Every student deserves an education, students with extra needs deserve the same level of education, even if that means receiving extra accommodations. There have been House Bills introduced that would greatly impact education, especially Special Education. ESSA, IDEA, and FAPE, programs for children with disabilities, could be repealed as well as defunding public school systems as a whole.

Curriculum: Our graduates need to learn life skills. Balance a check book, keep a budget, maintain employment. I want to bring Life Skills classes back to Valdez High School. I would like to see more “hands on” learning in the classrooms and out vs only learning from a textbook and homework.

Question #2:  What experience do you have with budgeting, and managing people and finances?

I readily admit I don’t have experience managing a budget like what our school district has. I have a family of 6 and anyone who lives in Valdez and pays the prices we pay knows that budgeting for a family is a tricky accomplishment, one I have come to master. I will learn. I will listen and I will learn how our budget process works and I will help make decisions that are the best for our schools, our students, our teachers and our community. I am not naive as to how difficult it is to manage a large budget, I hope to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can so I can make educated decisions when the time comes.