The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for Anchorage School Board to answer a series of issue questions. Read all of them here.
EDGAR BLATCHFORD | Occupation: University of Alaska Anchorage | Age: 70
1. Why are you running?
I am concerned about the achievement of our 41,000+ students. I believe our wonderful and hardworking teachers deserve support in and out of the classroom. The school board must provide a positive working and professional environment to get the best out of all of the workers of ASD. This motivation that comes from a positive environment will create untold benefits in the classroom. My second reason is to reflect the diversity of the Anchorage community. Our schools are among the most diverse in the country! Rather than hire Outside consultants to tell us how they create a diversified workforce, we ought to lead the country in how we do it to reflect all of the traditions and cultures from all over the world in our hometown.
2. Why are you qualified to serve as an Anchorage School Board member?
I am experienced in cutting budgets in local and state government. As a member Cabinets under two governors, the major responsibility in cutting the budget was to do so without harming the mission of why the departments existed. I also have the experiences in heading the lead agency under Governor Hickel that created the Alaska Job Corps Center in Palmer. I worked closely with Senator Stevens and Mat-Su Borough Mayor Dorothy Jones. As a long-time resident of Seward, I remember well the purpose of the Alaska Vocational Technical Center that trains students to the jobs of thousand from the Lower 48. I prefer to concentrate on the future and I believe that Alaska’s students are among the best in the country. That dedication to motivate the best comes from deep inside of my heart and soul.
3. What’s your vision for education in Anchorage?
The greatest contribution any teacher can make in the classroom is to motivate the student to do the best. The comes from passion and dedication to the community as a whole. There should never be a special interest in education except to do the best for student. That commitment will reflect well in how bright Anchorage’s future will be in the increasingly global marketplace. Our students must be able to compete at a higher level with students from countries in the Pacific, Europe, South American and all the rest. Our vision to do our best will clearly improve Anchorage’s quality of life, our happiness and gives us an easy explanation of why we live here.
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?
In a pandemic there are no, and there should never be, any special privileges on who among the students, faculty and staff should be vaccinated. Each student, teacher and staff member can become a super spreader. Since each of the teachers is a valued member that is increasingly hard to replace, we must do our best to protect their health and welfare and the students. It is our job! The requirements of wearing masks, social distancing and closing the schools rates an A+.
5. What do you believe is the single most important issue facing the Anchorage School District? How would you address it if elected?
The biggest issue is the health and welfare of the Anchorage School District teachers, students and staff. ASD is doing the best they can. I would favor expanding the resources of every student to make it easier, fairer and more justly to succeed. The budget and diversity on the school board are issues that require comprehensive examination every minute during a board meeting and listening attentively to countless parents who are obligated to address issues of their children. Our ears must be wide open to complaints and reasoning of how we can do better. I will listen, respond and attend every school board meeting and every committee meeting. I will meet you where you want to meet. I will accommodate your schedule.
6. If I could change one thing in the Anchorage School District, it would be _____. Explain.
A child is not a politician, nor is that child a political tool for some unseen, unidentified interest. I would shy away at every heart beat, every second from making decisions based on what is outside of the long-stated mission of educating the young of Anchorage. That is why elections to the school board are declared in the charter to be non-partisan. That is why I believe the student comes first.
7. Do you have areas of concern about student achievement in the Anchorage School District? What are your specific suggestions for improvement?
My concern is addressing BIPOC issues. We must address the issue of fairness in the budget to ensure that the growing student enrollments of Asian and Pacific Islanders, African Americans, Alaska Natives, Hispanics and the many others who call Anchorage their only home. The children whose parents come from elsewhere reflect the need to be respectful of the diversity of all. I believe that all of the employees of ASD are role models, so important to student achievement, that it is in our best interest to support programs that encourage residents to apply for the jobs needed to clearly reflect our commitment to respect all cultures, traditions. In the end we are all residents of Anchorage, our home.
8. What are your thoughts on the current and proposed Anchorage School District budgets?
The bottom line in all of the budgets I have had to cut, from city and state budgets, to private business budgets, is fairness. The simple questions are always going to be, is the budget fair to all and does it fall within the guidelines of the mission statement of the reason why we have the Anchorage School District? I strongly suggest that an honest and fair budget can be implemented if we concentrate on the delivery of services that promote high achievement results. I think that learning in classroom can be as important as learning to play a violin or playing on a hockey team. Social networking is absolutely important in our increasingly global environment. Working alone on a mountain top is no longer the way to compete. The future depends on how well we work with others.
9. Are there specific curriculum changes you would advocate? Describe them and the reason you want to see a change.
We must encourage our students to think on their own and outside of the box - respectfully! The board’s job is to be the advocate for high quality education and develop policies that reflect respect for each other in those policies. I believe that every student should have the options of selecting courses in the junior and senior years that prepare them to go to college, military or vocational education. The choice is up the student, with, of course guidance from counselors and parents. I also believe we must find heroes for our role models. We don’t have to have our heroes who have never lived in Alaska or Anchorage. Our heroes will reflect the diversity of our populations Alaska has always had. There is no one dominant culture or tradition. Our diversity reflects our cultures.
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?
Yes. The world is entering a new educational environment. My first class I taught with the University of Alaska Fairbanks was distance delivery, and that was in January 1995. We have come a long way in 26 years and delivery of optional classes is here to stay. We can holdout and say we only want classroom classes, but we may end up as the only one in the classroom. We must accept new models for the educational services have been developing since mandatory education was created. Evolution of how to teach is still with us, and I don’t see it disappearing. How I was taught at Nome Elementary was different at Seward Elementary. How I taught at UAF 26 years ago is totally different today. ASD should be leading the changes!
11. Does Anchorage need better preschool options for children? If not, what are your suggestions for improvement?
Yes. The family represents the most important core value the family. We must listen carefully and closely with wide-open ears to the suggestions that come from the heads of households. The parents place their children in our trust, and that trust must never be violated. I do not know all the options for preschool, but I do know it leads to greater success in the classroom for the years ahead. We do not want any student to fall behind, so what we have to do is to listen to the parent first.
12. What steps should ASD take to improve its career and technical education curriculum?
I come from a union family background. My Dad was a union man that goes back to the end of WWII. His sons, brothers and many of my cousins retired out of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 302, Teamsters and Laborers. I went to college because IUOE Local 302 gave me the opportunity to learn the skills of the trade. Just as I made the decision to learn the trade at 18 years old, demonstrates to me, that ASD students should have the same opportunities to learn a trade. I did because my Dad was a union man. The ASD has the obligation to prepare the young adult graduates to enter a new, brave world. It is the job of the ASD to prepare the graduate to become gainfully employed in the labor market.
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?
I have been a professor since 1995. I see the results of a high school education in my classroom. I think I have learned a thing or two. The first is BIPOC teachers who reflect the diversity of the greater Anchorage community. One person who identifies with a minority group can be all the reason why a student is motivated to reach for the highest fruit on the highest tree. The ASB of the future should not be a board where the members all look the same. It does a disservice to the concept of role models that every academic institution in the country recognizes as the key to success. If the parents have failed in the system because they never had a fair chance at success, that doesn’t mean the ASD should also fail. I support every opportunity to expand the opportunities for people of color.
14. Are you happy with current class sizes in the district? Would you suggest specific changes?
I have taught small classes and large classes. I think the ideal size, at least for me, is about 15. I have had many times 15 in the classroom. Students should have the equal opportunity to get advice from the teacher.
15. Are you happy with current school start times and the length of school days? Explain.
I would have to study this. I do know that sometimes it is better to have later start time simply because students must be prepared to learn and that requires eight to nine hours of sleep. We do the student, and the family, a disservice if we don’t do at least an analyse of the issue.
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? *
First, a seasoned teacher is a valuable asset. An effective teacher comes from the love of the job and the show of appreciation from others. The teacher often knows what capacity a motivated student has to learn. Students, and professors, leave if they don’t feel appreciated. A good working environment is key to success in the classroom. Second, there’s not much good that comes from hard feelings that have often developed between administrators and teachers. We know this from watching how Outside school districts are impacted and the affects and effects in the classroom.
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 believe in open government; I believe in transparency. If there are any changes to be made they could come only after strict adherence to personnel matters of the student, teacher, parent and staff.
18. What other important issue would you like to discuss?
Politics. Education should never be a political matter. Educating a student is an obligation of the teacher and parent has to guide that obligation.