Anchorage — Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan Wednesday announced formation of a non-profit corporation called Education Matters Inc. to follow-up on recommendations from local education reform conferences he sponsored in 2011 and 2012.
The group will be privately funded, and is starting out with $65,000 in donations left over from the mayor's education summit, said Cheryl Frasca, who will be part-time executive director of the group. Frasca retired as city budget director earlier this year.
One of Education Matters' first projects will be to pursue a goal to have more highly trained teachers in Anchorage classrooms, Frasca said.
She and Sullivan have focused on the role teacher training played in upping the academic achievement of Finnish students, who are world leaders on international tests.
The requirements for Finnish teachers are "a minimum of a master's degree in their subject, "plus rigorous education training," and new teachers work with mentors, Sullivan said at a recent news conference. Finnish teachers are also paid more, and are considered to have a status similar to other professionals like architects.
Frasca said there are tentative plans to bring Pasi Solberg, an expert on Finnish education, to Anchorage in late April for a symposium. She said they'll talk about "what are the characteristics of Finnish teachers, how do we build that into the classroom."
Then they'll look into how to train teachers, the role of principals, and other issues, Frasca said. Finally, they'll try to design a program for Anchorage, she said.
Another idea that's arisen is for the state to create a "great teachers" fund, she said, that would somehow support higher teacher qualifications.
Mike Hanley, state commissioner of education, attended the press conference at city hall Wednesday at which Sullivan unveiled plans for the non-profit corporation.
Hanley said the state hasn't dug into the concept of a great teachers' fund yet, but does anticipate raising the bar for teachers. The state Board of Education is considering new standards for teacher performance reviews, for example, he said.
Anchorage teacher's union president Andy Holleman said he likes the idea of offering teachers more training opportunities, and aiming for a higher degree of teacher excellence. "I think we've got the work force that can step up to that," he said.
Anchorage Superintendent Jim Browder was out of town Wednesday and not available for comment, said a school district spokeswoman.
Education Matters has a board of three businessmen who will oversee its operations, Frasca said. A broader board that will include school and university leaders and others will guide the policy of Education Matters, she said.
More highly qualified teachers was one of four main proposals to come out of the mayor's education reform meetings. The meetings began in November, 2011 with presentations by education experts and discussions among 100 invited civic leaders. In February of this year, a number of community meetings were held on education reform ideas, and in June, a group made final recommendations.
Besides increased teacher training, the summit recommendations included:
• Higher academic standards for students. The Anchorage School District has already raised its standards this year, adopting voluntary national standards called the common core.
• Offering more choices of alternative education programs to parents and students. Some alternative schools have waiting lists.
• Keeping the community involved in education.
Sullivan, asked what he would tell people concerned about whether anything concrete will come out of the new initiative, said there have already been changes since the educational summit, such as the school district's adoption of higher academic standards.
He said the discussions to date have also raised community awareness about the state of their schools.
Education Matters is independent, and not tied to the city, Sullivan said.
Frasca said she thinks many of the same companies and organization's that contributed a total of about $600,000 for the mayor's education summit will also donate money to Education Matters. A list of those donors is on the Education Matters web site.
The Education Matters web site is at anchorage-education.com.
Reach Rosemary Shinohara at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4340.