Anchorage School Board candidate Q&A: Alisha Hilde (Seat E)

The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for Anchorage School Board to answer a series of issue questions. Read all of them here.

ALISHA HILDE (Incumbent) | Occupation: Covid homeschool mom/Part-time attorney (Solo practice)| Age: 38 |

1. Why are you running?

I’m running for reelection because I’m passionate about making sure every child in our district gets a great education. As an attorney and former teacher, I know education is the most powerful tool for building healthy, vibrant communities. I was raised by a single mom who worked three jobs but still struggled to make ends meet. She trusted my district to provide an excellent education. While many kids in our district receive a world-class education, too many aren’t able to access those opportunities. My husband and I were foster parents, and I continue to work with and advocate for Anchorage’s most vulnerable children. I believe in the power of education to transform lives. I experienced that firsthand and I am committed to making sure all children have the opportunity to succeed.

2. Why are you qualified to serve as an Anchorage School Board member?

A successful school board will have a good mix of skill sets. I focus on long-term planning and accurately identifying problems so we can pursue innovative solutions. I rely on well-reviewed research when making decisions. I have a Master of Public Policy in law and economics, so you’ll often hear me discuss the costs and benefits of options. For example, when I advocated to reopen schools, I weighed the cost of harm to children and financial impacts to families against the very serious concerns of virus transmission. Using the best available research, I could confidently support our district’s mitigation practices in returning children and staff safely to school.

3. What’s your vision for education in Anchorage?

My vision for Anchorage is rooted in my deep belief that we can provide a world-class education to all students. I support the school board’s goals of focusing on improving reading and math skills and making sure graduates are ready for the next step of life – be it college, career or vocational training. I don’t want education to look the same five years from now as it did 100 years ago. In visiting with students, they share their excitement over having hands-on learning with STEAM and Career and Technical courses as well as opportunities for rigorous academics. We’re educating children for careers that don’t even exist yet. I support parents, educators, and our community working together to create the innovative changes that best meet the needs of student learning.

4. How would you rate the school district’s performance during the pandemic — protecting public health, delivering quality education services, serving the community? What specifically would you have done differently?

ASD is a leader in public health, providing more vaccines than any organization in the state and serving as a model for districts nationwide. Our district has consistently provided meals during remote instruction, a vital public service. As a community partner, our district excels. But when it comes to delivering quality education, we have not met the needs of all our students. That’s not a criticism of effort. Teachers, who always work hard, have gone above and beyond to help their students learn. But already we have research showing children from wealthier homes fared better academically during school closures, while children from lower-income homes struggled significantly. This widening of the educational gap was entirely predictable and will have life-long consequences. If I were to do something differently, I would have pushed harder last summer to keep the needs of all children at the forefront of community decision-making and to prioritize safely re-opening schools first.

5. What do you believe is the single most important issue facing the Anchorage School District? How would you address it if elected?

The most important issue facing ASD is student learning. In a global economy, our students must be able to compete with people from around the world. This requires rigorous academics that incorporate 21st century skills. But we cannot achieve our goals without disciplined focus on the intermittent steps that improve student learning. I support investing in professional development for teachers because they’re the ones doing this critical work, and I am adamant about keeping public dollars going into the classroom. I worked collaboratively with the board to engage our community in our strategic planning and successfully pushed for an aggressive growth goal in K-3 reading skills to improve from 40% to 80% proficiency. Foundational reading skills will benefit those students for the rest of their academic career and will allow efforts currently spent on remedial education to be focused on providing new learning opportunities for all students.

6. If I could change one thing in the Anchorage School District, it would be _____. Explain.

If I could change one thing in ASD, I would love to see us be more open to change. That comfort comes with better communication and providing opportunities for input, but given the looming fiscal cliff, our board has to start making changes now that support the long-term success of our district. There are so many opportunities to improve education through innovation, and I hope to see more support for that.

7. Do you have areas of concern about student achievement in the Anchorage School District? What are your specific suggestions for improvement?

Improving student achievement has been my priority while serving on the school board. The key to student success is recruiting and retaining highly skilled teachers and empowering parents to support their child’s education. We’re at an incredible flex point in education given the upheaval of the pandemic. Parents are directly engaged with their child’s learning, and teachers have created new methods of delivering instruction and connecting with families. Building on those successes, we could see dramatic improvements in student learning. At the school board level, these improvements come from focused monitoring of student progress and supporting a budget that prioritizes reading and math instruction and preparation for life after graduation – in college, career or vocational training.

8. What are your thoughts on the current and proposed Anchorage School District budgets?

We are required to approve a balanced budget, and the amount of our budget is driven by student enrollment and state and local funding. My goal is to make sure we get a great return on the public’s generous investment. Every dollar should be prioritized toward student learning. Time is an expensive resource, and I expect we’ll ultimately see greater efficiency with the infusion of technology so teachers and staff can spend more of their valuable time working directly with students. I support a budget that promotes innovation in improving education for all students. Federal COVID relief money has helped overcome our budget shortfall, but long-term planning is critical to our district’s success.

9. Are there specific curriculum changes you would advocate? Describe them and the reason you want to see a change.

In general, I support more STEAM based curriculum. I would like to see more incorporation of coding and hands-on learning. A good deal of that is dependent on having enough time in the day to support those additional educational opportunities. While curriculum is important, what helps the most is a pretty good curriculum with really great teachers. Highly skilled teachers are our best investment.

10. The school district used distance learning extensively over the past year. Once in-person classes fully return, would you like to see continuing or additional distance-learning options offered?

As the only board member with elementary-age children and a strong supporter of hands-on learning, online education has been a challenge for me to embrace for my family. But I have heard excellent reports of it working well for some students. And I have watched some incredible, high-quality instruction happen over Zoom. I think the one area our district excels at over every other district in the country is providing options for student learning. All kids learn differently. I support providing options for students to learn remotely and new options for hybrid instruction where some instruction happens remotely and some in-person.

11. Does Anchorage need better preschool options for children? If not, what are your suggestions for improvement?

Yes. Preschool is a wise investment for Anchorage, and parents should be given the choice on enrolling their children. ASD’s preschool program is excellent, and the teachers and staff do a great job in setting kids up for success in school with developmentally appropriate, pre-academic skills. One of the strengths of our preschool program is the focus on empowering families in their child’s education, with supportive home visits and help for at-home instruction.

12. What steps should ASD take to improve its career and technical education curriculum?

ASD has robust career and technical education programs. But like many of the outstanding programs in our district, the challenge is making sure all students have the opportunity to access those courses. There is a CTE component in our board goals because we know that students who take two or more CTE courses are much more likely to graduate. That is testament to the level of engagement and career relevancy CTE courses provide. Improvements in busing options and remote instruction as well as providing more opportunities for middle school students can improve student access.

13. Achievement gaps persist in the Anchorage School District among economic, racial and ethnic groups of students. What would you do to address the gaps and what should the district do to close them?

As chair of the school board governance committee, I work collaboratively on improving equity in our district as we strive to address disparities in educational outcomes. I expect results that show all student groups are succeeding academically and that students are fairly represented in our lottery/application-based programs. These aims are reflected in our school board’s adopted goals and guardrails to achieve over the next five years. I am working with educational leaders in other urban districts across the country to improve our board’s accountability in reaching these goals. Improvement will come with intentional, ongoing review of our district’s progress and strong, public accountability.

14. Are you happy with current class sizes in the district? Would you suggest specific changes?

While I value smaller class sizes, our budget doesn’t support lowering class sizes across all grades. I strongly support lowering class sizes in K-3 to support reading instruction. Reductions in class sizes at higher grades could come from incorporating more opportunities for distance learning. That will depend on community interest and whether it best supports student learning.

15. Are you happy with current school start times and the length of school days? Explain.

I voted to change school start times when I was first elected to the board. I rely on well-reviewed research to inform my decision-making. At the time, the argument was that our community couldn’t handle such a dramatic change. This pandemic has shown that we can make changes, and I support changes to our educational delivery model that prioritize student learning. In general, I think there should be more options for school start times and schedules. Our district has one of the shortest school days compared to similarly sized districts. There are a lot of opportunities available in extending the school day.

16. Is the Anchorage School District currently doing a good job of retaining quality teachers? What steps, if any, should the school board take to improve teacher retention? *

Alaska has a big challenge in recruiting and retaining high quality teachers. We have to look to the Lower 48 to attract teachers. I know the university system is working very hard to build capacity for teacher training, but until then, we’re faced with a significant challenge. There is strong competition for teachers nationwide and attracting teachers to move to Alaska without added benefits is an uphill struggle. I support a competitive teacher retirement system and competitive pay. We have to be able to attract highly skilled teachers and focus on investing in teacher preparation within Alaska.

17. Please discuss your commitment to transparency and open government as it relates to the school board and Anchorage School District. Would you push for changes?

I am a strong proponent of open and transparent decision-making. I am intentional in making sure our board work complies with the Open Meetings Act, and our whole board is in the habit of being aware of our compliance. But the goal isn’t just compliance, it’s providing meaningful opportunities for our community to be informed and participate in decision-making.

18. What other important issue would you like to discuss?

While my focus is on student learning, one of my favorite things to talk about is multi-year bonding. You’ll notice there isn’t a school bond on the ballot this year. That’s because voters generously approved our first multi-year bond last year. Thank you! Because of that vote, our district could focus on COVID-19 mitigation and on safely returning students to school instead of preparing a time-intensive bond. Multi-year bonding is a huge cost savings in both time and resources. I would like to see us move to three- and even five-year school bonds as we improve our long-term planning. All of those time and resources then get to be refocused on improving student learning.