Public education is under wide-spread, politically-motivated attack, fueled by the media's hype of purposefully selected negative cases and based on imperfect standardized assessment. As a parent of a high school student who has been receiving quality education in the Anchorage School District since kindergarten, I feel compelled to voice my appreciation and gratitude to the many wonderful teachers and administrators at his schools.
Though there is room for improvement, as in any other organization or system, the ASD provides many wonderful learning opportunities tailored to diverse needs and abilities. The positive achievements and strengths of the American education system must be recognized and built upon, not destroyed in its core value of providing equal opportunities to all members of society.
For my son the opportunities include Spanish Immersion, World Seminar, and Honors classes, along with regular core curriculum classes at Chugiak High School. His teachers go the extra mile providing assistance when needed, working way past required school hours.
Mr. Ron Lange is one example of such an outstanding teacher. Under his exceptional musicianship, the Chugiak High School Choir creates outstanding music locally and has performed globally at festivals and competitions since 1997. Mr. Lange's students are able to produce superb quality music on a scale of the world's highest standards. Last year the choir went to New Your City, performing at the Heritage Music Festival of Gold at Riverside Cathedral. Mixed, women and men's groups presented an outstanding performance, earning gold in all three categories and a special invitation to the Carnegie Hall Festival.
The choir has performed at festivals in Ireland, England, Italy, China, Canada, Boston, Washington D.C., Anaheim, San Antonio and New York. Nine times in the past 15 years the choir has been named Grand Champion in 16 North American and 2 international festivals, winning the most gold medals in men's, women's, mixed, or swing choir categories. Choir members also participate in many local events -- caroling during winter holidays and singing for special occasions and school concerts. This year, Mr. Lange was hoping to take the choir to a festival in Italy, but due to financial considerations the choir instead traveled to San Francisco -- where again the group won gold.
As a parent and a community member, I was not aware that such talent exists in our neighborhood. Last fall, when I went for the first time to their concert, I was surprised to find myself in a long line for a ticket, outside of the auditorium. As a professional musician, I was expecting to hear a nice high school choir admired by parents and a few friends. Soon I caught myself thinking in terms of impeccable pianissimo, seamless breathing, and complex rhythmic pulsation. By the end of the concert I was speechless, realizing that such professional quality I did not expect at the high school level.
Mr. Lange is an incredible teacher, musician, and a big engine that brings Chugiak High Choir to the international level. He inspires many young, talented individuals to bring out the best in themselves, sing like bright stars, and have great fun doing it. Mr. Lange is in his 31st year as a public school choral conductor. The last 17 years of his career have been at Chugiak High School, and I hope that he will continue passing on his talent and passion for music to new generations. With all the focus on academics and testing, he nourishes students' right brain, in the right way, benefiting the local community and a global society.
I strongly encourage parents, students and community members to recognize gems of public education, wonderful teachers that give their time, passion, and service beyond required hours and expectations.
Together, we can improve the public school system and not destroy it through inadequate budgeting. Together, we can enrich public education, and not deplete it by syphoning funds. Together, we can ensure a dream of equal opportunities and not growing inequalities in our society by giving each child a chance to attend a well-funded, high quality school in his or her neighborhood.
Anna Bondarenko is a Russian-trained singer and pianist who also holds masters' degrees in education and special education. She lives in Chugiak.