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Dillingham City Election 2021: School Board candidates

KDLG heard from the people running for the only contested school board seat ahead of Dillingham's Oct. 5 election. Absentee and early voting is underway through Oct. 4. Polls are open from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. on Oct. 5 at Dillingham City Hall.

KDLG caught up with the candidates running for the one contested seat on the Dillingham School Board. Helen Smeaton is running unopposed for seat D.

Incumbent Bernina Venua and challenger Jon Clouse are running for seat E.

The City of Dillingham is hosting a school board debate on Thursday, Sept. 30, moderated by Mike Davis and Fritz Johnson. The debate will be aired on KDLG 670AM.

The interview segments have been lightly edited for clarity.

Credit Courtesy of Bernina Venua

Bernina Venua

Incumbent Bernina Venua moved to Dillingham as a child and went to the Dillingham City schools. She has been on the school board on and off for the last 10 years, stepping in on multiple occasions when the board had a vacancy in the middle of the year. Currently, she is the behavioral health program manager for BBAHC.


Venua shared a short bio with KDLG.


Major Issues:

School District strategic plan

“We have developed this really comprehensive strategic plan for the school district that I think that we do want to focus on. And that includes a new mission. And that mission is as part of the community, the Dillingham City School District will promote and lead a safe, supportive and equitable learning environment. And within that, we also made the goals focused on personalized learning, systems of support, empowering a culturally rich environment. And those are all, I think, really important goals, and really important to be thought about as equitable.”

Updating school board policy

“We are in the process of updating all our school board policies to match current laws and standards in education.”


“We take [the recommended policies from the Association of Alaska School Boards], and then the local policy committee looks at it, checks to see if there's any additional changes -- looking over every single policy to see if that is something pertinent to our district, if something needs to be added or taken away, or things that we need to be reviewed by the whole board in greater detail. And then that goes through the board for them to read through and look at before it could be approved.”


“I think that we just have to follow current guidelines from experts in public health and the medical community... There's so much information out there, and so we do get a lot of guidance, both from the state and from our local providers here. Any really big decisions or anything that comes up, we reach out to those experts to help guide us so that we can make the best decisions for the students and the staff at the school.”


Jon Clouse

Credit Courtesy of Jon Clouse

Jon Clouse started his career in education in 2000, when he came to New Stuyahok to teach middle school. He moved to Dillingham in 2004. Clouse now works for the Southwest Region School District as the federal programs director. He has served on the SAFE Board of Directors and coached middle and high school basketball in Dillingham, and volunteers with the school.


Clouse shared a short bio with KDLG.


Major issues:

Career and Technical Education programs

“Career and technical education is an area that I would like to see maybe some more opportunities for students. And while I have some other areas I'd like to focus on, generally just ensuring that students have best educational opportunities available to them that's possible.”


“I think just helping spread the word about the opportunities through the Bristol Bay Regional CTE Program that are available to students in Dillingham as well as students in the other school districts in the area. There's some really in-depth programs and robust pathways through that program.”


“I believe most students learn best during in-person school. I also believe that an in-person setting provides much-needed social interactions for students. And it's just overall a better environment to be successful with academics and social and emotional well-being in general.”


“That's one of the areas of focus if I do get elected to the school board, is to help come up with plans and protocols -- policy to ensure in-person school is occuring.”

Contact the author at or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.