School summit sets priority on developing teachers, leaders

Rosemary Shinohara

Participants in a two-day conference on schools organized by Mayor Dan Sullivan's administration advocated an emphasis on developing great teachers and school leaders, more school choices, higher student expectations and a greater effort to engage the community in education.

The conference, which ended Wednesday, brought together national experts and about 100 invited Anchorage residents -- local and state politicians, school officials, students, parents, college professors, business people and others.

"The goal is to literally put together a plan that can be implemented" to improve Anchorage schools, Sullivan said in an interview as the conference closed at the Anchorage Hilton.

Next, the city intends to present the ideas from this week's conference in several public meetings in February, and see what residents think about them.

Finally, on June 6-7, a group will get together to make final recommendations for "several high-leverage reforms," according to conference documents.

Anchorage schools Superintendent Carol Comeau said the most important thing from the conference were "meaty discussions about what people value in public education."

But she noted there was little talk about costs.

And, she said, "The next set of discussions (in February) will come right after I have to cut $17 million in programs."

The district budget, which Comeau will propose in January, faces a $17 million shortfall in revenues from being able to continue existing programs for the 2012-2013 school year, she said.

Sullivan has said he organized the education summit because he wants to help make Anchorage's educational system more competitive internationally. And because citizens participating in city budget discussions last year clearly wanted the city to look at schools as well as city administration.

The final plan may or may not result in a push for additional money, he said. "It depends on if more funding is needed."

The first thing is to sell the plan to the public, he said.

At the conference, participants heard from experts on topics such as the successful Finnish schools, charter schools, government vouchers for private schools, and testing.

Facilitators guided small group discussions on what people think should be changed.

The last day's exercise was to narrow the priorities for school improvement to a handful and consider their pros and cons.

One of four sub-groups that made recommendations said top priority should go to supporting great teachers and school leaders.

The other recommendations:

• Make education the priority in the community. "We want everybody in the community to have a voice," said group spokeswoman Chelsea Parrocha, a student.

• Expand school choices such as alternative programs, and including both public and private schools.

• Raise expectations for students -- put more rigor in the curriculum.

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at or 257-4340.

Anchorage Daily News