Anchorage Daily News / Alaska State Spelling Bee Problems & Coordinator

1 1001 Northway Dr., Anchorage, AK, United States
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- Coordinator and/or ADN failure to respond to a scholarship donor; a Professor intended to donate money to support the State Champion’s travels, hotel fare, and stay in Washington D.C. However, Joy Guest and/or ADN failed to respond to the donor, ultimately affecting community children.

- Coordinator mistreatment of community members intending to help with, give advice on spelling bees, including a
2-time former ADN Alaska State Spelling Bee Champion

- Coordinator hanging up on individuals interested in discussing and helping improve the spelling bee

- Coordinator not willing to entertain phone calls from individuals about spelling bees due to “her real job and deadlines"

- Coordinator fabrication of resume, claiming she is a “Licensed Realtor” ( when in fact, she is a “Licensed Realtor’s Assistant and Buyer Specialist” (

- Coordinator and her selected volunteers having 0 knowledge of material used for the State Spelling Bee (Spell It!) or its 1, 150+ words

- Little to no knowledge of Scripps rules and guidelines

- Breaking Scripps rules and guidelines

- Refusing to give students the “language of origin”

- Pronouncing incorrectly and imprecisely

- Pronouncer unknowledgeable about diacritical marks and pronunciation keys

- Coordinator and pronouncer skipping words compiled and ordered by Scripps too liberally

- Difficultly inconsistent within rounds, due to excessive skipping around by pronouncer (each word and page increases in difficulty, hence why there should not be such liberal skipping)

- Running out of Scripps Spell It! words by just the 2nd round due to liberal skipping, lack of knowledge about Spell It! and Spell It! words

- Lack of utilization of “difficult” words studied BY students IN the Spell It! guide, due to coordinator and pronouncer ignorance towards Spell It! and Spell It! words. Coordinator and pronouncer incorrectly assess what is difficult.

- By the third round, progression into “Additional Words, ” which are intended by Scripps to be “end-of-bee” challenge words IF/WHEN all Spell It! words are utilized via competition

- Coordinator “tries to stay away from spelling bee stuff as much as possible”; unwilling to learn about Spell It! booklet and learn Spell It! words


Spell It! is “the official list of study words for 2014 district, county, city, regional and state spelling bees” ( by Merriam-Webster). It is the official word book written and distributed by Scripps. As the official Spelling Bee “Spell It!” website ( states, the “purpose [of the spelling bee] is to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabulary, learn concepts, and develop correct English usage that will help them all their lives.”

Scripps states that “local spelling bee officials use word lists generated by the Scripps National Spelling Bee. These lists include many words that appear in the current edition of Spell It! as well as some “end-of-bee” words, ” which are separated from the Spell It words and put under the header Additional Words” near the end. These end-of-bee words are not given to students, as they often function as tie-breakers once bees have exhausted all the Spell It words.

M Hessenauer, a 3-time National speller whom placed 3rd in the NSB, is an experienced pronouncer and judge for the regional level bee, as he has volunteered throughout high school and college. He states about utilizing the Scripps mandated source that “using a booklet allows spellers to set a defined goal, such as learning one category of words per day. It would be much more difficult to prepare for a spelling bee without a word source. I would expect Spell It to be used in a bee at the district or regional level. Using a standard word source eliminates many complaints about fairness of word difficulty. Every word is fair game when the words are known beforehand.”

T Mahoney represented Wisconsin and placed 15th in the National Spelling Bee. He then proceeded to work for numerous school and regional spelling bees from [protected], and in 2007, 2008, and 2010, he worked for National Spelling Bee. Mahoney also stated that he would expect a regional/district-level bee coordinator and those involved to be aware of the Spell It booklet and its words, particularly because it is a) created by Scripps for distribution and use at the regional/district level and b) made publicly available to coordinators, parents, and spellers online and through their schools.

Hessenauer explains that “we use a regional bee guide from Scripps that listed many Spell It words followed by words unknown to the spellers. We did not move to the unknown words until we ran out of words or it was clear that all the remaining spellers had memorized every word in the booklet. We completed at least 8-10 rounds before this happened.” He confirms that in the past few years, the Alaska state bee is moving to unknown words far too early. Other national spellers confirmed that many district/regional bees do not progress to Additional Words, unless they run out of Spell It words.

As national speller A.D. Mehta states, the coordinator and pronouncer “must be aware of the material they are working with for the competition. And yes, at the local and regional level words should be coming from the Spell It book.”

Unfortunately, the ADN’s 5-time coordinator and her selected team have zero knowledge on the existence of Spell It, its purpose, and its words. Worst of all, she has no interest in learning about Spell It, its purpose, or its words. Via phone call, she stated that she is too busy due to her “real job.”

We write in response to the severe ineptitude of the current 5-time Alaska State Spelling Bee coordinator, and we document how this affects the academic endeavors of local students. The ADN Publisher and President, Pat Doyle, asked who is aware of this issue. The Anchorage School District Superintendent and a mix of principals, coordinators, teachers, and parents from the local elementary and middle schools are aware of the problem.

In addition to the numerous issues with the coordinator’s conduct and lack of knowledge about the bees she runs, the community is also concerned that a coordinator whom fabricates her resume is the face of such an important academic opportunity. We hope that the ADN respects students, parents, and the State Spelling Bee as more than just pieces in a marketing event. For all their earnest efforts, our students deserve more than that. They deserve a coordinator who cares just as much as they do and ensures a proper running bee.

Our direct contact via phone calls and emails with the coordinator confirm our beliefs that she is simply “too busy” for the spelling bees due to “her real job.” We believe that 5 years is enough time that a coordinator would have learned the guidelines and rules, selected a strong team of volunteers, properly educated her annual volunteers on the guidelines and rules, and smoothed out kinks and mistakes. Yet, the 2013 Alaska State Spelling Bee was riddled with issues deemed by a former Scripps employee as “embarrassing, ” and when the coordinator was contacted by an experienced nationally ranked speller for improvements, she hung up on the individual mid-sentence after 2 minutes stating she was “too busy”—on the ADN company phone, representing ADN, during company hours. It is time the Anchorage students have a real coordinator who has enough time and interest and cares enough this academic opportunity to invest more time.

We will outline the issues with the current spelling bee management/coordination in bullets for easier navigation, but before I proceed, I would like to ask this: why do spelling bees matter?

To an outsider like Guest whom has never competed in major spelling bees or pursued higher education, the spelling bees and similar academic events may seem unimportant or something deservedly “at the bottom of her list.” However, this is a misinterpretation.

As the official Spelling Bee “Spell It!” website ( states, the “purpose [of the spelling bee] is to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabulary, learn concepts, and develop correct English usage that will help them all their lives.” Further, spelling bees are an opportunity for academic AND personal growth; they develop an interest and passion for academics, supply satisfaction for building and achieving goals, they boost confidence and self-esteem, and they also teach integrity and honesty. These skills go beyond spelling bee competitions, beyond the 8th grade, and they serve students well into college and beyond.

If the spelling bees were not an important opportunity, winners of the National Spelling Bees would not take home $30, 000 annually; the National Spelling Bee would not be broadcast on ESPN annually; state champions would not often win $40, 000+ in local scholarships for college.

Young students from grades 3-8 dedicate hundreds of hours to studying the bee and bettering themselves, and in return, they deserve a coordinator who understands this and cares enough to learn the guidelines, rules, materials (Spell It words), and takes the time to educate her judges and pronouncers of the rules.

It is because the Alaska State Spelling Bee has been run for the past 5 years by an unenthused coordinator that the bees have been riddled with issues, beginning with the coordinator and extending to the pronouncer and judges, which often includes 1-2 members from the Alaska State Spelling Bee’s largest sponsor, Janssen Funeral Homes.

We have reached out to Guest in hopes that she would be willing to listen and address the issues as “she has all the power” related to spelling bees, as she stated. However, our attempts to guide the bee, volunteer, or even merely give suggestions were met with iron-fisted disinterest. After a 2-minute conversation, the coordinator hung up on the former 2-time state champion—on a company line, during company hours—stating that she “has more important things to discuss” and “will no longer respond to phone calls about spelling bees, ” though she would be “more than happy to respond to emails.”

We have already reached out to the Alaska Spelling Bee’s largest sponsor, Janssen Funeral Homes, numerous times to no avail. We had hoped that if we could not educate an unwilling Guest on proper bee conduct, that perhaps we could help educate her volunteers, whom would then work to improve the bees from within. However, this required that the sponsor, Janssen Funeral Homes, genuinely cared about the spelling bees and local children.

Unfortunately, during brief phone calls with the Janssen family, it was revealed that the Janssens knew very little about the spelling bees, that it was their “marketing person” who recommended promoting the bees, and that “just do what the coordinator tells them to do.” We never received a call back from the “main spelling bee person” at Janssen Funeral Homes, despite being told by family members that they “are positive he would be concerned about addressing any problems with the spelling bee.” However, after 4 attempts in 1 week to contact JFH and 0 return calls or emails after 4 weeks, it seems, unfortunately, that the Janssens are in the same boat as Guest, whom mentioned via phone that “the spelling bee is at the bottom of her list.”

Thus, we are reaching out to Mr. Pat Doyle, Publisher and President of ADN, to take these issues seriously and give these children a coordinator who WILL run the spelling bees property and does NOT fabricate her resume. If you support local students, promote academia and higher education amongst children, please email [protected] expressing your interest in seeing Anchorage children’s academic opportunities being treated importantly and respectfully, express your interest in seeing a new coordinator for the 2014 spelling bees, comment on this post, and listen in to our radio segment coming up soon (will post a date soon).

The current 5-time coordinator, Joy Guest, doubted a 2-time state champion, 4-time school champion, and a speller nationally ranked 8th’s expertise, experience, and advice on running a better spelling bee on behalf of the children. Thus, since individuals, like Guest, may doubt one national speller’s experience, we networked with and gained the expertise of many other highly ranked national spellers whom have a) competed in numerous school and district/regional spelling bees, b) worked for district/regional and state bees, b) worked for the Scripps National Spelling Bees. We have included their expertise on the issues below.

1) 5-time ADN coordinator and her team have no knowledge of Spell It

Issue: long-time ADN Spelling Bee Coordinator Joy Guest unaware of Spell It

We cannot emphasize enough that it is integral the coordinator be aware of the materials she is working with. A.D. Mehta also confirms that “traditionally, Spell It is the competition material and those competing should be aware of it. The coordinators of the bee definitely should be aware of it. They must be aware of the material they are working with for the competition. And yes, at the local and regional level words should be coming from the Spell It book.”

Without this basic understanding, it becomes impossible for a coordinator to responsibly run the spelling bee. J Ausick, who placed 8th in the National Spelling Bee states, “I would most certainly expect any regional bee to be at least aware of Spell It.” Your current 5-time coordinator, Joy Guest, however, is unaware of Spell It, its importance, and its relevance to running the state bee.

Originally, we felt the best way to address the bee’s misguidance and mistakes were to have an experienced national speller volunteer and act as a helpful guide. When the offer was rejected by the ADN coordinator because she felt it was “unnecessary, ” the national speller then to then give suggestions for improvement. She called the Anchorage Daily News HR and connected to Joy Guest on January 17 at 4:02pm. Guest expressed no knowledge of the Scripps’s Spell It! booklet. Though she tried to tell her about Spell It and its importance, Guest was dismissive.

Specifically, she stated, “I don’t know what that is. If it's at the school level, I can't control that. If it's not, I don't know. I try to keep myself as far removed from that kind of thing and anything that has to do with the school bees. I only deal with the guide given by Scripps for the state bee.”

As the experienced national speller tried to help Guest understand that most of the words in that guide are comprised of words from the Spell It booklet, she expressed irritation and hung up on her, but not before Guest demanded that she refrain from calling again. Guest then hung up on the young woman mid-sentence.

This was during company hours, on the company phone line, representing the Anchorage Daily News. We were all shocked and stunned that this is how an ADN representative would treat a community member and a former champion who won their bee twice, represented them in nationals twice, and placed 8th—for ADN and for Alaska.

2) Incompetence of “Spell It!” results in…

a. Running out of “Spell It” words by the 2nd round’s end

Ultimately, it is because the coordinator and her team did not understand the difference between Spell It and non-Spell-It words that many of 2013’s gaffes were committed. Spell It has over 1, 000 words organized by languages of origin, and it is intended for study and use in district/state bees.

Yes, pronouncers are given discretion to skip some words. However, directions note that pronouncers should skip when they feel they may not properly deliver the word, and thus may disadvantage the speller. This discretion is not to be interpreted so liberally. After all, the word level difficulty increases around every 25th word.

Yet, the rule was too liberally interpreted in the Alaska State Spelling Bee. The 2013 bee used very little of these words and instead progressed onto End-of-Bee words by only the 3rd round of the regional competition.

Why would Scripps give children over 1, 000 words to understand and memorize, only to give 2 of them in the district competition, especially when these words will not be seen at the school or national level? These words are intended for study and use at the state/district level.

b. Too many skipped words and varying difficulty levels within-rounds

B Brown, a veteran spelling bee coordinator and pronouncer, states, “It is unfair to spellers to liberally skip around so much. A pronouncer should go in the order given by Scripps in the guide.”

Experienced spellers and pronouncers like Brown know that words become much harder as the guide progresses, and part of keeping a fair round is keeping difficulty consistent throughout the round. To skip around so much within a single round and/or starting so late in the pronouncer guide unfairly disadvantages spellers with higher bib numbers.

Skipping so liberally and/or starting so late in the guide goes counter to the spirit of the bees, which is centered on the expansion of spelling, vocabulary, etymology, and language—not competition and intense elimination. The bees are a celebration of academia and hard work. When only giving spellers 2 words out of roughly 1, 150, this neither reinforces nor rewards their efforts. It also does not follow the structure of Nationals, where pronouncers do NOT skip and where spellers study 50, 000+ words from specific sources (top national spellers do not study the entire unabridged dictionary).

3) Breaking the rules

a. Students denied the “language of origin”:

While it is every pronouncer and judge’s responsibility to read the guidelines and rules, it is ultimately the coordinator’s main responsibility to be an expert on these rules and to advise the pronouncer and judge of these rules prior to competition. Scripps states in the guidelines that spellers may ask for and receive 5 things: the language of origin, alternate pronunciations, the part of speech, the definition, and have the word in a sentence. Specifically, the Scripps guidelines and rules state:

“the pronouncer responds to the speller’s requests for a definition, sentence, part of speech, language(s) of origin, and alternate pronunciation(s).” What pronouncers do NOT entertain is root word questions, alternate definition questions, and requests to pronounce slower.

However, in the 2013 Alaska State Spelling Bee, when a young speller requested the language of origin for her word, the pronouncer said, “I cannot give that to you. That is against the rules.”

That young speller did not receive the language of origin, nor did the coordinator or any judges correct the pronouncer’s mistake on the spot or between rounds. As such, the coordinator, pronouncer, and the judges failed to fulfill their roles as outlined by Scripps.

In the ADN’s case, it is likely that the coordinator, pronouncer, and/or judges either did not read the rules OR confused “language of origin” with “root word.” Nonetheless, these gaffes are not acceptable at the state level, especially when the current coordinator has been running the bee for the past 5 years.

This instance publicly reflected the Alaska state bee’s incompetence and disregard of Scripps’s rules. The pronouncer demonstrated that nobody on the ADN bee team carefully read the guidelines, instructions, or rules, which negatively impacts not only young students in the state bee, but those that progress to Nationals.

As a result of ADN’s bee team not knowing the rules, no spellers in the 2013 year received the language of origin at the State Spelling Bee. Not only were all 2013 participants unfairly denied the languages of origin, but the 2013 Alaska state champion proceeded to Nationals under the incorrect pretense that he could not receive the language of origin. National spellers testify that identifying languages of origins for unfamiliar words is critical for success.

b. The pronouncer must enunciate and read pronouncer guide symbols clearly:

Spellers should have their words pronounced correctly and precisely. Scripps provides the available pronunciations for each word. While the symbols may seem foreign at first (i.e. “ə, ” also known as a “schwa” makes an “uh” sound), with foresight and preparation, one can understand the guide, prepare properly, and deliver accurately.

However, in the 2013 state bee, the pronouncer incorrectly pronounced numerous words. The pronouncer enunciated colloquially and casually, which resulted in “t’s” sounding like “d’s.” The pronouncer relied more on her personal knowledge of the words and their pronunciations, rather than on the guide and its precise diacritical marks and pronunciation keys before her.

Unfortunately, such mistakes are more common than not, which is why it is critical for coordinators and pronouncers to watch at least one televised National Bee. It became apparent that neither the coordinator nor the pronouncer had seen a televised National Spelling Bee broadcast on ESPN, which is the prime, unmistakable example on how to pronounce and enunciate. The NSB pronouncer is former national champion Professor Bailley. Pronouncers on
school and district levels strive to follow Dr. Bailley’s example, and his iconic, precise, and adept pronunciation skills earned him a role as the pronouncer in Lionsgate Film Akeelah and the Bee.

Someone who did not take spelling bees seriously OR someone with no experience on the official, national platform may not notice the difference. However, competitive spellers, veteran spellers, spelling bee employees, and professionals (like Dr. Bailley) experienced with these words, the guidelines, the pronunciation key can hear the difference immediately, and the difference matters because it affects these young competitors.

Unfortunately, the Alaska state bee judges did not pick up on the difference between “t’s” and “d’s” in the diacritical marks. According to Scripps, the judges must “compare the pronouncer’s pronunciation with the diacritical markings in the word list. If the judges feel that the pronouncer’s pronunciation does not match the pronunciation specified in the diacritical markings, the judges direct the pronouncer to correct the error as soon as it is detected.”

Ultimately, the state spelling bee is not something volunteer coordinators or pronouncers just show up to casually, just as the young spellers do not show up casually. There should be knowledge of the words beforehand, and though Guest plans this year to “pre-select words, ” for 2014, it is not acceptable just to slash out words the children were given to
study by Scripps simply because the coordinator and pronouncer did not take the time the understand Spell It, the nature of the spelling bees, and know those words.

As national speller A.D. Mehta states, the coordinator and pronouncer “must be aware of the material they are working with for the competition.”

Despite your coordinator’s belief, without understanding and knowing the Spell It words, the problems are not “taken care of”

Guest stated that the problem was “taken care of.” She was aware of that the pronouncer skipped excessively last year. However, she believes the issue will be addressed by sitting down with her pronouncer and together selecting words for competition ahead of time. This implies a deliberate removal of Scripps’s pre-selected words based on Guest and her volunteer’s own assessment of “difficulty.” However, this presents issues, particularly when the coordinator and her people are unaware of Spell It’s existence and words.

1) As stated earlier, Scripps took the liberty to “pick the words” for coordinators ahead of time

It is unnecessary for the coordinator and pronouncer to then assess and select from these words. As Brown and M Hessenauer state, this tampers with fairness by injecting large doses of personal judgment. “Picking words” without Spell It knowledge is a disorganized process working against Scripps’s intentions to improve spelling and increase vocabulary. The 1, 150 words were selected by Scripps; the words were all given to students for studying, and even harder words, like “sotto voce” and “hors d’oeuvres, ” can become easy or manageable for prepared spellers.

It is inappropriate to “parse out” these words because they “seem harder” according to adults unfamiliar with Scripps’ materials. As Hessenauer states, “Using a standard word source eliminates many complaints about fairness of word difficulty. Every word is fair game when the words are known beforehand.” So why not test them and give them a fair game with the advanced, given Spell It words?

Nonetheless, this is what occurred in the 2013 bee.

While Guest has 5 years of experience—valuable or not—coordinating the Alaska State Spelling Bee, it likely does not trumps Scripps’s, Hessenauer’s, or Mahoney’s experience in selecting the proper words in the right order given.

2) Eliminating “difficult” words only increases within-round difficulty for spellers with higher bib numbers, as difficulty increases roughly every 25 words.

Thus, the coordinator and her team must understand Spell It content in order to pick level Spell It words across rounds. What is so difficult about going in order?

The same goes for “eliminating” some Additional Words: ultimately, it is ineffective to cull through words from the Additional Words list, as they progressively become exponentially harder.

3) Coordinator might mix Spell It and Additional Words—which is unacceptable:

There is the large concern about mixing Spell It and Additional Words. Without Spell It knowledge, by pulling “similar difficulty words” ahead of time, a coordinator could easily mix Spell It and Additional Words in a round, which would actually disadvantage spellers given words from the Additional List.

To the outside eye, an Additional Word may seem to be equally as difficult as a Spell It word. However, when a speller is spelling a never before seen word, it is a harder word because they have not practiced it. It would be unfair if the coordinator and her team felt that a Spell It words and Additional Words had equal difficulty and were mixed within a round.

The bottom line is that especially when the coordinator and her team do not know the Spell It words, it is inappropriate to be “selecting” and “choosing” from Scripps’s word lists for the listed issues, as the coordinator is doing this year.

c. The coordinator’s attitude towards the bees and conduct has had a negative effect on the community:

1) Negative effect on the students:

While the current level of effort towards upholding the bee’s standards and spirit may make the coordinator’s life easier, it directly affects each young speller negatively.

In defense, your coordinator may state that by her methods, she is picking the most prepared spellers for nationals. However, if this were true, why is it that none of the spellers from the past 5 years have progressed beyond the 3rd round of Nationals?

2) Lack of cooperation with interested with community members and donors:

B Brown manages the Adult Spelling Bee, and due to the coordinator’s uncooperative and combative nature, Brown’s organization felt there was no other way than to discontinue working with the Anchorage Daily News.

Guest was dismissive and rude to potential volunteers, even former champions and highly ranked National spellers, whom otherwise would have been a positive influence and speaker to young students.

3) Failure to respond to interested potential sponsors:

A Professor was willing to sponsor scholarships to the winner of State Spelling Bee, which would help in travel, hotel, and miscellaneous costs. Guest said she would relay the information to the Advertising department. However, the Professor never heard from the ADN.

It has been over a month, and, it is hard to believe that an advertising department would not contact someone willing to donate a sizeable amount of money. For the Alaska State Bee, that is lost opportunity, ultimately to students’ detriment. If Guest did not relay information for donations, it makes one wonder, who else’s information was not relayed? —And who does this negatively affect? Young students.


Ultimately, a coordinator should care about the bees and especially about improving them where necessary. While coordinators and volunteers may have lives outside of the bees, for the young spellers, it is a monumental and critical event; it is the culmination of all the hours, days, months, and even years spent honing their orthographic skills. They deserve a coordinator who takes the bees as seriously as they do, and a true coordinator would never say to concerned community members on a company phone that she “does not have time to listen anymore on the phone, ” due to “her real job and deadlines.”

Guest seems unhappy and unenthusiastic as the state spelling bee coordinator. Though I believed that being a spelling bee coordinator is a volunteer position, Guest stated in our first conversationthat it is part of her job, and it had been handed down to her and that there is no formal process for receiving the role. We truly hope ADN will enforce an application process where individuals who want to be coordinators and who recognize the educational opportunity spelling bees present may apply.

Originally, we hoped that Guest would want to improve the bees. We tried very hard to help her by volunteering with her, and we even offered to shadow with her. We attempted to give her advice. However, she has shown us little interest. We seek a fair, rightful, and representative State spelling bee, and we have lost faith that it be achieved under the current coordinator’s management.

Guest mentioned she intends to continue coordinating for an unforeseen number of years. We do not believe this will benefit young students this year or in years to come. We seek a new coordinator, and we have names of 2 available and very experienced individuals who have committed to taking over year, should the ADN do what is right.

We ask that if you are an individual who believes in promoting academic opportunities amongst youth and would like to see such opportunities run properly, please email [protected] and let him know that you are a community member, and that you do care.

Unfortunately, we sense that the ADN and Janssen Funeral Homes views this academic opportunity as their own marketing opportunity and will do little to address the situation / will not do the right thing unless they see that the community is aware and demanding justice for the children.

Feb 17, 2014

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