Anchorage School Board candidate Q&As: Does Anchorage need better preschool options?

In advance of the April 6 Anchorage municipal election, the Anchorage Daily News asked candidates running for Anchorage School Board a series of issue questions. These include questions suggested by readers. Read all the mayor and school board candidates’ responses here.

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

SEAT B (1-year-term)

Mark Anthony Cox

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.

Judy Norton Eledge

I do not believe there needs to be better preschool options than we have. Many would like to increase funding for preschool, but I remind them that money from the state will continue to be less and less, and we need to be focused on K-12.

Kelly Lessens

Yes. ASD needs additional preschool options, including blended programs (which integrate students with special needs alongside general-education students), to increase options for all families and improve kindergarten readiness, district-wide. Only 18% of our kindergarteners enter having mastered all 13 DEED competencies assessing kindergarten readiness. Meanwhile, 23% of Anchorage-area children between 0-5 are in unlicensed care facilities, and another 18% of families with children in this age range have unmet needs for child care. Nationwide, evidence has shown that every dollar invested in quality early childhood programs yields returns between $4-$16, increases high school graduation rates and decreases suspension, grade-retention and needs for social services or special education.

Marilyn Stewart

Yes. This is where our young people’s learning starts and their educational foundation is established.


Rachel Blakeslee

As a former pre-K teacher, I can attest to the power that early learning opportunities have on students’ long-term success. I am a huge advocate for expanding pre-K options in Anchorage. Pre-K lays the groundwork for a child’s academic trajectory through early exposure to literacy, problem solving, and social skills. It helps prevent opportunity gaps by providing every child with access to resources that many children don’t inherently receive at home. When I taught pre-K, my students arrived unable to recognize what a letter was, and left knowing all of their sounds, how to write their names and some even starting to read. Imagine how much more difficult it would have been for them if they’d missed that year of learning before entering kindergarten. Preschool makes all the difference.

Edgar Blatchford

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.

Sami Graham

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.

Pat Higgins

ASD needs to improve preschool options. While ASD cannot expect to receive the additional funding from the state to expand preschool classes within schools, there are inexpensive options. ASD needs to explore options used by other districts. One program established an outreach program to help parents provide preschool activities and had a lending program for preschool material. There are very inexpensive preschool programs subsidized by corporations that could be used in Anchorage with support by local businesses. ASD needs to consider low-cost programs that will help preschool children prepare for kindergarten.

Alisha Hilde*

Yes. Preschool is a wise investment for Anchorage, and parents should be given the choice on enrolling their children. ASD’s preschool program is excellent, and the teachers and staff do a great job in setting kids up for success in school with developmentally appropriate, pre-academic skills. One of the strengths of our preschool program is the focus on empowering families in their child’s education, with supportive home visits and help for at-home instruction.

Nial Sherwood Williams

No, children should spend time with parents as they are young and developing.


Kim Paulson

I need to do more research into the preschool options the district is offering before I can comment on this issue. Please check my website for an updated answer:

Marcus Sanders

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.

Dora Wilson

Early childhood education fosters cognitive skills along with attentiveness, motivation, self-control and sociability. The brain develops rapidly and builds the foundation of cognitive and character skills necessary for success in school, health, career and life. Early childhood education is the most efficient way to build a highly educated, skilled workforce. Expanding preschool options for children would be an investment in the future success of our students.


Carl Jacobs

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

Elisa Vakalis*

Yes. There is no question or doubt. I have been advocating for more Pre-K options for years.

* Incumbents

Read more Q&As with Anchorage School Board candidates:

Why are you running?

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

What’s your vision for education in Anchorage?

Rate the school district’s performance during the pandemic. What specifically would you have done differently?

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

If you could change one thing in the Anchorage School District, what would it be?

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

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

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

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?

Does Anchorage need better preschool options?

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

Achievement gaps persist in the Anchorage School District among economic, racial and ethnic groups of students. What should the district do to close them?

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

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?

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?

What other important issue would you like to discuss?