Anchorage School Board candidate Q&A: Mark Anthony Cox (Seat B)

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

MARK ANTHONY COX | Occupation: CEO Family Charity of Alaska; Soldier U.S. Army | Age: 26 |

1. Why are you running?

We need leadership that represents the diversity of our great city and gives a voice to a new generation of parents in the Anchorage School District. I come to offer a clear, contemporary perspective as a product of the Anchorage School District and be an advocate for students and parents who need a leader that is transparent, available and flexible to their various needs and expectations in regard to their education.

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

As a recent graduate of the Anchorage School District to later serve his country in the United States Army, be a guest speaker and mentor in Anchorage Title 1 schools and University of Alaska Anchorage, and then start a charitable nonprofit to serve his community in the midst of COVID-19, it has been shown that serving the future and families is a way of life to me and not a political position.

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

The vision is that Anchorage, one of the most diverse school districts in the nation will also be touted as one of the best school districts in the nation. To see this come to pass, I envision planning and investing into our students paths that lead them into college or vocational training based on their abilities while giving them a strong foundation in literacy, arithmetic, and other testable skills. Paired with a staff that enjoys their work in making a positive impact in the lives of our youth and a community that is involved and supportive as they receive a profitable return on their investment.

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?

Rating: Average. COVID-19 presented unprecedented challenges which caused states to adopt each other’s policies and to make adjustments as further guidelines and evidence was given. What would be the most beneficial differences that we could have done as the Anchorage School Board is set the vision of giving parents and teachers/staff an educated option of whether or not they wanted to do face-to-face instruction, while simultaneously preparing our facilities with necessary health equipment and mitigation procedures in place for those who would stay, and approving a virtual curriculum for those who would be home. We would would also need to set the direction of utilizing our $25 million transportation service to extend routes to serve meals for families who do not have the capabilities for transportation to the schools where the food given to Title 1 students are located.

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

Our budget is not making a sizable impact in the lives of our disadvantaged student population. As an Anchorage School Board member, I would propose setting objectives to increase our focus and direction on supplementing what those aforementioned students need (mentorship, trauma-informed practices, contracted vocational instructors, more challenging curriculum, educational resources, incentivized teachers based on productivity with similar students and more).

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

Class sizes across the districts. School in more diverse neighborhoods have overwhelmingly larger class sizes, which has diluted learning for students reflected in attrition rates.

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

The accessibility of Honors/AP classes for BIPOC and students in disadvantaged areas due to transportation and discouragement from staff/faculty to academically challenge students.

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

The Anchorage School Board is not running efficiently from a business perspective, which is reflected in the proposed budget which addresses the maintenance concerns but overlooks our greatest asset: our students and the teachers.

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

Ability tracking with every child development stage should be in place so two pathways of education can foster the talents shown; collegiate and vocational. We are losing students in these crucial stages of development by not stimulating neural pathways interconnected to their inherent gifts and talents. This will decrease our attrition rates and keep them engaged and passionate about their future.

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?

The state of Alaska has been a state that has utilized distance learning (home schooling model) before COVID-19. To compete with the private school sector, we should offer array of options that best suits the needs of families we serve in the Anchorage School District.

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

Preschool is a transitional stage for children into a more structured social setting that is to mirror the home. For preschool children who do not have a structured home environment, the preschool education we provide needs to be able to accelerate the learning curve of these students so they are not below-average for nationwide kindergarten standards.

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

There needs to be an integrated pathway from learning in school to these vocational programs with travel provided for students without transportation.

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?

The ASD should provide to the students’ elementary assistance to include: mentorship, mental health support and transportation to students who qualify for gifted programs without the means otherwise.

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

In the ASD, we have a burgeoning population of middle school students, and at that stage of learning they need to be in smaller class size to further mitigate the distraction that inhibits their learning.

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

The community of Anchorage has learned to accommodate their schedules to school start and end times. What needs to happen is supplementary transportation for parents who either cannot afford private transportation or the time to transport their kids to after-school activities, gifted programs outside of the district, or in general to return their children to their bus stop.

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? *

The communication of the Anchorage School Board has been a topic of discussion, either frustrating or confusing faculty members through the superintendent. With clear direction and open lines of communication with our teachers.

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?

Transparency, availability, flexibility and a clear contemporary perspective are what I am committed to offer to the Anchorage School Board and District. I seek to create more opportunities for the community to voice their opinions, suggestions and comments to us and will utilize my technological experience to propel initiatives to reach the Anchorage community through social media platforms in a contemporary manner versus how we are currently conducting as a board and district.

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

COVID-19 has been surprising, but does not have to set back our children irreparably. The issue I hope to see remedied post-COVID is a desire for parents to be more involved with their children’s education than ever before. As an Anchorage School Board member, I hope to hear from you all so as a community we can offer our children better than what we had growing up at their age.