Anchorage School Board candidate Q&As: If you could change one thing in the Anchorage School District, what would it be?

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

SEAT B (1-year-term)

Mark Anthony Cox

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.

Judy Norton Eledge

Stop trying to be everything to everyone. Our school system seems to be more worried about social trends than academic achievement. Teachers are overwhelmed with all the policies, curriculum and special interest groups affecting their classrooms daily. When a system begins teaching values that differ from those of the families of their students, those families become frustrated and no longer trust the system.

Kelly Lessens

One issue is special education. When I’ve spoken to families of students with special needs, they are exhausted and overwhelmed with ongoing needs to advocate. Many would benefit from a formal liaison in ASD, informal support groups and additional blended preschool options. When I’ve spoken to SPED teachers, it’s become clear that they, too, have concrete needs. SPED teachers often leave teaching entirely after only 3-5 years due to burnout. This could be addressed through a commitment to ensuring that staffing needs are fully met; formal mentorship opportunities; additional prep time to adequately design interventions for their students; consistent, planned and coordinated cycles of professional development; and the provision of up-to-date, research-based curricular materials.

Marilyn Stewart

Returning our kids to school safely and soon and making certain that the Anchorage School System serves our students well across all ages, faiths and races.


Rachel Blakeslee

In addition to focusing on my key priorities and all the topics covered here, I’d love to see more diversity in our leadership. I acknowledge that I have immense privilege that allows me to be able to run for a school board seat and advocate for something that I care so deeply about. But I also know that there are many experienced, talented and diverse voices out there that deserve to be elevated and represent our incredibly diverse community. I’d love to see real changes in our systems that make it possible for those voices to come to the surface and be heard through all forms of leadership, both formal and informal. I believe that true diversity of thought, fresh ideas and representation are the best ways to affect meaningful, positive change and the best path forward for our district.

Edgar Blatchford

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.

Sami Graham

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.

Pat Higgins

If I could change one thing in the Anchorage School District, it would be the role of the school board. The current school board is delegating its authority to the superintendent. The current school board did not participate in new curriculum decisions and even believe it is inappropriate to make changes to the superintendent’s proposed budget. The superintendent and board have lost the trust of staff. A recent survey of over 2000 teachers found 72% had little or no trust in the superintendent. Half had little or no trust in the board. As a former board member, I want to help the board understand and meet the expectation of the NSBA: be the voice of the public, provide direction to the district or hold the district accountable.

Alisha Hilde*

If I could change one thing in ASD, I would love to see us be more open to change. That comfort comes with better communication and providing opportunities for input, but given the looming fiscal cliff, our board has to start making changes now that support the long-term success of our district. There are so many opportunities to improve education through innovation, and I hope to see more support for that.

Nial Sherwood Williams

Teacher pay based on results.


Kim Paulson

If I could change one thing in the Anchorage School District, it would be a bigger push to increase parental awareness. Parents need to know what curriculum their children are being taught and how it is being implemented. They also need to be made aware of any political or social indoctrination platforms presented within the schools.

Marcus Sanders

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.

Dora Wilson

If I could change one thing in the Anchorage School District, it would be to create a plan to make preschool a universal expectation in our school district. This would improve long-term success rates for students. Preschool is not currently equally accessible to students and families, despite research showing its high level of importance.


Carl Jacobs

Accessibility of elected office. We must limit barriers to participation to ensure our board is diverse in terms of background and thought. The dynamics of running a municipality-wide race inherently limit the pool of potential candidates and elected members. Once my time on the Anchorage School Board ends, it would be a personal honor to know those who serve after me found the process of running easier to navigate and more equitable.

Elisa Vakalis*

This is something I have been working on for the last year. “Student outcomes won’t change, until adult behaviors change.” I want this district to be student outcome-focused. I have a healthy respect for the adults in the equation, I just believe that the student needs should come first. This is not the ASD culture or focus as a school board. I am committed to keeping students first.

* Incumbents

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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?