Anchorage School Board candidate Q&A: Carl Jacobs (Seat G)

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

CARL JACOBS | Occupation: Victim advocate / Victims for Justice | Age: 35 |

1. Why are you running?

I’m running because I have a passion for public service. I’ve spent my career working to protect the public as a licensing specialist for assisted living homes and child care facilities. My work helped ensure vulnerable Alaskans were safe and treated with dignity and respect. I went on to serve as an investigator tasked with maintaining professional standards for individuals in licensed occupations across Alaska. I will bring my experience, knowledge and fresh perspective to help facilitate positive change for all Anchorage School District students.

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

My wife Alicia and I have served as licensed therapeutic foster parents to approximately 40 children over the last decade. We will be celebrating our 11th high school graduate this May, and couldn’t be more excited to help young Alaskans successfully transition to independent life. I’m intimately familiar with not just the traditional classroom experiences, but how well our systems are functioning when it comes to serving students who need extra support -- either through IEP’s, 504 plans or gifted educational programming. I’ve seen what’s working, what’s not and what the impact is, and I have a lot of ideas about ways to make those systems work better by partnering with our community.

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

I have the same vision most Anchorage residents -- that every student from every background is able to receive a high-quality public education that prepares them to live full adult lives after graduation.

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?

Our board demonstrated a lack of leadership during the pandemic, which negatively impacted our district, and its operations. ASD failed to implement a plan to respond to the pandemic in a timely manner this year. When they established a plan, they didn’t stick to it. Worse, they failed to keep students, parents and teachers and staff involved in the process, and waited until the last possible moment to decide and communicate deviations from the plan to the public. Now there is a push for reopening, which I absolutely believe is a priority, and some families are being left behind who prefer a distance learning environment. I would have stayed in constant conversations. I would have brought stakeholder groups to improve operations. I would have made a commitment to follow the science so we could return kids to school sooner, and keep them there longer. Finally, I would have focused on long-range planning so families could know what to expect and make arrangements accordingly.

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

Equalizing outcomes for every student who enters our schools. I think we can achieve those outcomes by centering students, parents, and teachers, and listening to them about what they need. I believe in setting high expectations for every student, and ensuring they have the resources to meet those expectations.

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

Accessibility of elected office. We must limit barriers to participation to ensure our board is diverse in terms of background and thought. The dynamics of running a municipality-wide race inherently limit the pool of potential candidates and elected members. Once my time on the Anchorage School Board ends, it would be a personal honor to know those who serve after me found the process of running easier to navigate and more equitable.

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

Yes. Our district is transparent about shortcomings in this area, and the inability to completely or even partially address many areas of concern. Approximately one in four Alaska Native/American Indian youth eligible to graduate high school failed to do so last year. Children of color, those with disabilities and students classified as economically disadvantaged are typically more likely to fail a class or face disciplinary action within ASD. Addressing these concerns must involve a community-wide discussion, and increased engagement between our district and the community which does not occur at present. Addressing systemic issues such as equity in access to pre-K, charter schools, special and gifted programs must be priorities for the board moving forward.

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

In any organization with a budget north of $800 million, finding efficiencies and properly allocating resources is essential. Credibility and public trust are generated when our district acts as a good steward of public funds. The recent budget development process was especially noteworthy, as the proposed budget shortfall of over $20 million was only filled with one-time federal funding. If ASD remains flat-funded in future years, our community will face extremely challenging decisions on what we value most in our system of education. As an elected member of the Anchorage School Board, I will both advocate for adequate funding necessary to ensure the success of all children, and also hold our district accountable with the resources it is entrusted to spend.

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

We constantly need to be working toward a curriculum that prepares students to function as adults. While I appreciate the goal of Alaska studies classes, I think we need to be teaching comprehensive experiences and perspectives when in history, and that’s best accomplished by working lessons about Native Alaskans, Black history, the history of the Filipino community and Pacific Islander communities throughout our lesson plans. Whether it’s in music classes, English classes or science classes, these contributions to our society need to be recognized at every step.

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?

I think it is most typical for students to get the best outcomes if they’re in a classroom with a professional whose job it is to make sure they’re mastering concepts and being challenged in the context of their own abilities. That said, there are lots of reasons that traditional model may not fully meet the needs of our students and families, and I support having all options on the table so that students get the education they deserve.

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

Absolutely. Pre-K is the best place to invest to equalize outcomes. Impacting young children as their brains are developing the pathways that will serve them throughout their entire lives is critical to long-term success, and it helps families to be more successful as well. Preschool programs should exist in every public school, and should be evidence-based in implementation and evaluation. We don’t need 3-year-olds sitting in neat rows of desks learning print and times tables. We do need intentional environments set up to encourage learning through a play-based model that captures their interest early and keeps a fire for learning as they transition to school

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

We must build on the vocational programming already in place, including the recently-expanded King Tech High. While each of our high schools has a program focus area, having more options like King Tech is in some ways the future of education, where we center career skills and teach in the context of real-world applications. Encouraging growth in the areas of financial literacy, career training and civic engagement via expanded access to consumer and family science courses would be an important first step.

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 a parent to an incredibly diverse group of youth for the last ten years, I have seen the problem firsthand. Achievement gaps are rightfully receiving attention due in part to the ongoing pandemic, but these institutional challenges have gone unsolved for years. I’ve spent considerable time reaching out to parents asking questions as to how to improve outcomes for all students. Reoccurring themes include improved and more transparent communication, equity in distribution of resources and increased accountability and engagement by our school board. Discussing these problems is appropriate and necessary, but must be accompanied by meaningful action and follow-through.

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

Generally, no. Class sizes are a constant battle. As we lose teachers and struggle to recruit or retain their replacements, class sizes increase, and students suffer. A common consensus exists -- lower student-to-teacher ratios improve outcomes across the board. We must wisely utilize, retain and advocate for resources to ensure students are given the best possible chance to succeed.

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

I see the benefits of altering school start times to improve outcomes, and allowing students to arrive each school day ready to learn. Logistical challenges in our district and community need to be solved to make that happen, and I’m interested in learning more about creative solutions to support students and families in this area if possible.

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? *

No. We’re one of the only states where teachers can’t access full Social Security benefits or a pension. That means for people who would choose to spend their lives building up the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, electricians, doctors, caregivers, etc. have nothing secure to fall back on when they’re no longer able to retire. Furthermore, teachers are taking pay cuts in some years because their health plan costs are rising higher than their wages. Teaching is a noble and necessary pursuit, but we can’t expect people to build our futures while asking them to give up the ability to secure their own.

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?

While school board meetings are public, most people don’t know how to find them or how they work. I’d like to see structural changes to make meetings easier to follow. I’ve made it a habit attending meetings and providing short recaps on social media. That’s not something I see the current school board doing, so the work that’s getting done isn’t getting done in a way that serves the public. In addition, a review of publicly available information demonstrates the current board president routinely fails to show up to community council meetings where those updates need to be shared. We must include the public because it’s their students, their families and their futures that we’re shaping. No one knows better how to meet those needs than the students, families and teachers.

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

A full majority of the Anchorage School Board will be on the ballots mailed out on March 15th. It is not hyperbolic to say the future of education in Anchorage will be decided by those who participate in this election. Please vote, and encourage your friends, family and coworkers to do the same. As a district, we have a noble and ambitious set of goals and guardrails to achieve and monitor in the next three years and beyond. Please consider if you are truly happy with current operations, and can trust the leadership responsible to make our goals a reality. If you believe the Anchorage School District is in need of positive change, I ask for your vote on or before April 6, 2021. Thank you.