Anchorage School Board candidate Q&A: Marcus Sanders (Seat F)

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

MARCUS SANDERS | Occupation: Currently enrolled in the Joint Master of Divinity & MBA at Wayland Baptist University. | Age: 38 |

1. Why are you running?

My wife and I have children and want the Anchorage schools to be the best they can be. I believe our public schools are the foundation of Alaska’s greatness. We must have well-educated citizens

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

With my experience as a Alaskan who has attended all my secondary education, K-12 and a graduate of East High School, as a father who has two children enrolled in the ASD and with seven years’ employment with the Anchorage School District as a teacher’s assistant for special education and special needs, safety and security specialist for two years and for five years coaching basketball, track and field and volleyball, I bring a lifetime of experience to the board as a community-oriented and family man to make the ASD work better for our citizens, and most importantly, our children.

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

I want the best schools for our children. We must have well-educated citizens. I will support and expand educational options including charter, alternative, vocational, language immersion and middle college programs.

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?

The ASD has performed the best that it can with distance learning. With almost a year without in-person learning – we have to focus our efforts and budget to improve English language and math proficiency and improve them from the current 40% average level. We had problems in the basics of reading and math. Parents and teachers have done as much as they can through the virtual classes, but young children need the daily group and teacher interaction to insure that these basic skills are learned and reinforced through classroom activities. It is hard for a teacher to measure through the virtual environment exactly how much a child has understood and retained of the subject being taught without having the ability to actually see and hear the child doing the school work. Isolation has been devastating for the mental health of many of our students.

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

The ASD, teachers and parents have performed the best that they can with distance learning. It has started opening schools and started in-person learning K-8. We must get all schools open, K-12, ASAP. With almost a year without in-person learning, we have to focus our efforts and direct our budget to recover learning loss and begin to improve English language and math proficiency from the 41% average level before the COVID-19 pandemic. It is crucial to return our children to schools safely and soon. This process must be parallel with the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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

Direct the ASD budget, curriculum and objectives to focus on the math and English Language Arts proficiencies. This the most important part of the district governance.

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

We need to change Anchorage school system’s focus to improving the current math proficiency of 40.30% and English Language Arts proficiency of only 41.79% to the highest national level we can in the next two years. We need to return to proven successful English language Arts (reading) and math teaching methods.

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

ASD students have lost 116 days of reading time during the early stages of the pandemic last year and 215 days of math work. We need to conduct a cost-benefit analysis to detail the cost for all programs and measure effective improvement in reading and math proficiencies. Concentrate dollars on those programs that improve proficiencies.

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

ASD need to return to proven teaching methods that work on improving English Language Arts (reading) and math. Return to basics and in-person teaching.

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?

Utilize distance learning systems for addressing reading/math gaps so that students and parents can improve those skills, make up class due to sickness.

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

I have not had any complaints on the current preschool program. I would focus on activities that align with their interests, develop independence and natural curiosity.

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

After reviewing the career and technical education curriculum it is deep and professional. The only improvement that I would suggest is that the program is better advertise to parents and students.

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?

Have programs in the school that run all year round (utilizing distance learning). This would improve reading and math skills. Summer school and mentoring systems may be needed to help students to catch up and be at grade level.

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

Smaller class size increases the time a teacher has with each child. Recruit classroom volunteers (for example, foster grandparent program, PTA and other volunteers) to do some tasks that would free teachers to work with those that need help to improve.

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

No. Increase the length of the school day so there is time for more intense learning and time for play or physical activities. It is necessary for the student’s health and learning. Short school days push out the break times that all children need for physical and mental health.

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? *

I would suggest that we incentivize retention of scholarships for advanced degrees for the “Brightest and Best Teachers.” The Indian Health Service and Public Health Service have utilized scholarships or forgiveness of student loans with a commitment of four to six years of service. We should coordinate with the National Association for Business Resources, philanthropic organizations, for example, the Rasmussen Foundation, and other nonprofit organization for grants to fund the program.

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?

School board members should maintain open and honest lines of communication to keep citizens, parents, teachers and students informed on decisions that are made in the best interests of ASD.

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

The use of technology to engage the community and improve math and reading proficiencies