Dillingham Municipal Election 2020: School Board

Sep 21, 2020

Three candidates are running for school board this year with two seats open, one unopposed. The candidates are focused on supporting education with COVID-19, growing skill-based classes and future policy development. 

Credit KDLG

Three candidates are running for the two seats on Dillingham’s school board — Kaleb Westfall, Karl Clark and Jenny Bennis.

Bennis is running unopposed for board seat C. She is the Curyung Tribe’s emergency relief coordinator, a new position that distributes COVID-19 funding to Tribal members. She has a degree in education from Fort Lewis College in Colorado. 

It’s her first time running for school board.

“I have a passion for education at all levels, a vested interest in all of our students," Bennis said. "I got my education through the district, I’m from the class of 2006 and it’s now time for me to step up and volunteer for the school board.”

Bennis wants to help the school navigate COVID-19 precautions at the district and continue to provide support for education during the pandemic. 

Clark and Westfall will square off for school board seat B. Clark was an employee at the school district for 16 years holding a variety of positions from athletic director to special education aide. He's also worked as a tutor, in accounts payable and job coordinator.

He left the district to take a job as case manager of the Bristol Bay Native Association’s Prisoner Re-entry Program, helping formerly incarcerated persons reintegrate themselves in a community. Now, a year later, Clark is ready to serve his alma mater again.

“I have a four-year-old that’s coming up into kindergarten next year," he said. "I want to make sure he has a safe educational experience like I did graduating from Dillingham City schools in 2002.” 

If Clark is elected to the school board, he wants to dive in and learn about what the board has been up to and what could be in store for the future.

“I miss being here at the district, it’s a great environment," he said. "Being able to come back and give back, helping out working with the kids and volunteering at events. Hopefully, make a change to educational policies that are here in Dillingham.”

Westfall is running against Clark for the school board seat. He is also running for City Council. Westfall was the shop instructor last year, and has also worked as a substitute teacher at the Middle-High School.

The Dillingham school district joined the Bristol Bay Regional Career and Technical Education Program last year. The program introduces students to different skill-based careers. Westfall wants to see the district foster similar opportunities.

"There’s a large need and desire, kids want to learn all these things," he said. "They want to build, they want to weld on boats, they want to create, they have amazing minds. We are looking into that here, but how can we grow and thrive that? We have all these resources, how do we mold that together in an appropriate way with funding?”

Unlike Clark and Bennis, Westfall was not born or raised in Dillingham. But he said the opportunities that Dillingham has to offer is why he calls the city home.

“I don’t have that story," he said. "But the story I do have is that I grew up commercial fishing out here and I saw something that you can’t get in Anchorage, you can’t get in Wasilla, you can’t get in Fairbanks. I don’t know if it’s the clean air, the peace, the salmon, the people, all of the above. There’s this beautiful opportunity to engage with the wilderness and community activities that other places don’t have.”

In-person absentee voting is open at City Hall from September 21 through October 5 by appointment only. To set up a time to vote, call 907-842-5212. The deadline to apply for absentee by mail voting is September 26.

Contact the author at tyler@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200