The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for School Board in the 2020 election to answer a series of issue questions. Many of the questions were based on suggestions from readers. Find all candidates’ responses here. We also asked candidates for Anchorage Assembly a series of questions.
Note: This survey was sent and candidates’ responses were collected in February, before the first confirmed case of the new coronavirus was reported in Alaska.
Candidate: Andy Holleman
Occupation: Anchorage School District teacher
Why are you running?
I spent a fair amount of time in contact with board members, particularly while I was Anchorage Education Association president. Most board members are not educators and have limited time in the classroom in any role other than student. It’s a bit unusual to have educators on the board, though we have a couple now. There are times when proposed policy simply is not going to play out in the classroom the way board members expect. I experienced a lot of policy and a lot of students, and I get the connections. I think that perspective is useful for the board to have.
How should the Anchorage School District handle a decrease in state funds for local education?
There are two reasons state funds drop. We have had a slight decrease in enrollment, and the school district should handle that issue on its own. We’ve also had the Base Student Allocation number held flat for several years now while facing inflationary pressures. The Legislature has sometimes allocated one-time funds to help, but it’s hard to use that for staff as it is one-time money. It also is not cumulative, and inflation is. If the Legislature is not going to support keeping us where we are at with an inflation adjustment, it’s a conversation we need to have and agree on rather than facing year after year of uncertainty.
Due to static state funding, the Anchorage School District is looking at ways to lower its budget. What’s your idea for a solution?
If I had a painless answer it would already be in place. We’re at a point where any meaningful change in the budget is going to have a negative influence on students. We could look at reducing who we transport on buses to schools and we’ll probably continue to consolidate administrative jobs, but these are fairly small parts of the budget already. Far and away, the single biggest chunk of the budget is salaries for instruction, and no significant cut can avoid that. We are at the point where we have to talk about keeping athletics and other activities outside of class, but I think there’s a lot of support in Anchorage to keep them in place, and they play a huge role in binding students to their school.
What should be done to raise the performance of underperforming students and schools?
Underperforming students need more time and resources. Right now, we keep all students for the same amount of time each day. If we had the resources, before- and after-school programs that were staffed could be there to offer a good environment for those students to work on academics, get help from teachers and perhaps receive other services that would help them improve academically. We simply do not have funds for that at the moment. Within school, lowering our class size would have the greatest impact, but it needs to change significantly and educators need to know that it won’t be going back up.
State your views on school choice/the charter system.
The system we have in Alaska works well. It is not like any other state in the union. The school district provides real choice in different programs. Some address learning styles and some are very specialized, such as our language immersion programs. The range of alternative schools, charter schools, optional programs and schools with a special focus offer the opportunity for students to find a place where they really fit inside the public education system. I am not an advocate of privately owned or managed charter schools receiving public funds.
Do you think the school district’s sex education should include instruction on practicing safe sex, or should it be abstinence-based? Please explain your answer.
The benefits of abstinence should always be included. The phrasing of this question, “instruction on practicing safe sex,” is a little bit leading. You really don’t have to “instruct” students in how to have sex, but yes, I do believe we should tell students how to use birth control and how to keep from contracting and/or spreading diseases. I also think we should (as we do) spend time on the emotional impact of relationships, including sexual ones, as well as danger signs on people that may be grooming them for abuse or violence.
How should the district improve teacher retention? If your answer requires additional funding, please pose a source for that money.
I believe we’ve had a long slide toward more and more decisions being made at the Boniface Education Center with a strong effort to enforce them uniformly across the district. I believe this is the wrong direction. More authority and autonomy needs to be at the building level, made by people who know the students by name. There does need to be broad policy, but principals should be focused on developing staff and resolving issues in their schools and teachers need to have “room to move” and respond to the needs of their students more freely. The direction we’re headed is draining our best teachers of their desire to teach here, and I’ve not yet seen that it’s made a difference in how we’re performing. That doesn’t require funds so much. Another way would be a real commitment to reducing class size. That is expensive. The Alaska Constitution puts the responsibility for funding education squarely on the state.
Recently, the school board and Assembly approved a bond to fund upgrades for the Anchorage School District building Aquarian Charter School operates in. Aquarian is the only charter in a school district building, but it was also the first time money for a charter school was placed on the bond. What do you think about that decision?
It’s a little more nuanced. PAIDEIA school began as a charter and is housed at Central Middle School. Highland Tech is also a charter and housed in the Boniface Education Center, although the Education Center is not actually owned by the district. When Aquarian was forming up about 20 years ago, the site they moved to had been vacated by Northern Lights ABC School, and state law stipulates that if a district has space available, a charter may utilize that. The school district did not plan to have a school on that site, and Aquarian has made great use of it ever since, but it does need some significant repair. Key points are that Aquarian is an Anchorage School District school. The only difference is that parents have more influence in policy and the school has more latitude to manage its budget than a neighborhood school, all because it is a charter. Aquarian students are Anchorage School District students. The building is owned by the district. They need a building that is warm and dry. I supported Aquarian being placed on the bond, and still do. It is making terrific use of a school district asset that would otherwise be torn down.
What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
It has gotten very common to talk about the failures of public schools today. Many people can point to specific weaknesses (usually standardized test results) and other people just accept that schools are poorly performing, even if they can’t say why. In fact, there is a lot of success every day. There are more than 40,000 students in school each day, working at learning learning math, learning to speak eloquently, learning to read, learning about the world around them. Yes, we make mistakes every day, but we also make huge gains. I don’t ever want people to ignore the shortcomings of the Anchorage School District - it’s what we need to be aware of and work on fixing. But I don’t want people to look past the large number of students that connect with staff and connect with other students. We have a lot of students that develop a love of community and a sense of place and belonging. They learn a great deal about themselves and about their capacity being beyond what they thought. They develop a love of learning and thinking, doing well and working with teams. We need to build on that and bring more students into it. We have an amazing mix of cultures and issues within our schools. In some places it could be a powder keg, but it works pretty well here. People that have children in our schools or spend time there themselves generally have very positive things to say. We’ll never be perfect, and I don’t want to gloss over anything, but I do want people to take pride in the positive results that are a very normal everyday occurrence across the Anchorage School District.