Anchorage School Board candidate Q&A: Sami Graham (Seat E)

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

SAMI GRAHAM | Occupation: Retired educator | Age: 61 |

1. Why are you running?

I am Anchorage born and raised and I am concerned for the students of Anchorage and the future of Alaska. Forty percent proficiency is alarming! We can do better. The students and parents deserve better.

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

I have a heart for kids, a heart for Anchorage, the education and years of experience as a teacher, counselor, assistant principal and principal in the ASD, as well as the private setting. Education is my wheelhouse. I can help raise student achievement. It’s imperative.

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

ASD needs to focus on opening schools, boosting student achievement through rigorous curriculum and strong teacher professional development, and engaging students with strong sports, arts and extracurricular activities.

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 appropriately closed in March of 2020, but they did not plan well to reopen in the fall. Private schools and neighboring districts opened with CDC guidelines and mitigations, and have remained open with very few resets. Following the scientific data that was available regarding the safety of students in schools would have allowed students back in the classroom much sooner. Getting technology into the hands of the students was a good thing, however, the data coming out of virtual school is alarming. I would have opened schools sooner allowing for a hybrid model.

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

Student achievement is paramount. I would focus all district and community resources on raising student achievement. Rigorous curriculum, differentiated instruction, excellent instruction, engaging students, strong Career Technical Education opportunities, modeling successful program and engaging students through exciting sports, arts and extracurricular activities are imperative.

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

If I had a magic wand I would model more schools after the successful schools we have, such as optional and charter schools, and make them accessible to every neighborhood and socioeconomic status.

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

Answered above. Student achievement is my number one concern with the ASD.

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

$841,318,521 is a LOT of money. Let’s use it to boost student achievement.

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

I think it is important to incorporate the voices of parents in the curriculum decisions. The reading curriculum is failing. The data is clear, the teachers have voiced concerns and I would change it immediately. The new math curriculum has been adopted so I would make sure there is adequate professional development, not just a half a day of training. Comprehensive sex education has political forces driving it and children should not be used as political pawns.

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 district has excellent working models of distance learning in Frontier, Family Partnership, the old iSchool and others. I would expand the working models. “Virtual School” has been a failure and I would not continue it.

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

Early Childhood Education is critical. I wrote legislative grants to create school summer library, created preschool library hours and advocated for more ECE. Neighborhood options are critical.

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

CTE is a learning link between academics and real life. It is critical and we need more of it, not less.

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?

We have one of the most diverse school districts in the nation and yet our teaching force does not reflect that. It is important to have an accredited teacher certification program at UAA so we can recruit Alaskan teachers from all ethnic groups.

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

Low class size, particularly in the lower grades, is one of the best ways to raise proficiency. It is expensive. I would use Title money and grants to lower class size, not add instructional coaches or administrators.

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

All data shows that high schoolers do better with later start times, however we would need to find a way for that to work with our transportation system. The length of the school day is shortened because of COVID-19. It is difficult to raise proficiency with only 4 hours of academic time.

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? *

Addressed above. We NEED good, quality teachers and we need to recognize the excellent teachers. We also need to address the teachers that are not effective.

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?

One hundred percent transparency is important.

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

Residing IN Anchorage while serving on the Anchorage School Board is imperative. There have been board members who live outside of Anchorage and that should never happen.