Anchorage School Board candidate Q&As: 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?

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: 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?

SEAT B (1-year-term)

Mark Anthony Cox

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.

Judy Norton Eledge

I believe the Anchorage School District retains its teachers at a much higher rate than the rest of Alaska. I also believe teachers want to be part of the decision-making and when they are, they tend to stay longer.

Kelly Lessens

To support teacher retention, the administration needs to improve its communication with teachers and seek buy-in and feedback. (Something similar could be said about ASD’s relationship with its principals, as well.) In SPED, where burnout leads to very high turnover rates, proper staffing ratios and contractual implementation of teacher preparation time would aid in teacher retention. Additional time and support for professional development and collaboration would also improve retention. Recruitment of talented teachers is related, and the board needs to focus on increasing the number of highly qualified teachers of color. These teachers benefit all students, but have particular bearing on the academic performance, graduation rates and college attendance among students of color.

Marilyn Stewart

I believe that the Anchorage School District is doing a pretty good job of retaining teachers. But there is always room for improvements. We probably should look at who is qualified to recruit “good teachers.” How does the Anchorage School District identify “good teachers,” from bad/average teachers? They are not doing a good job in recruiting minority teachers. I would like to see an aggressive outreach campaign/recruitment of minority teachers.


Rachel Blakeslee

Nationwide, our public education system is struggling to attract and retain good teachers, a crisis from which Anchorage is not immune. High teacher turnover deeply and negatively impacts our kids. In order to attract and retain high-quality, diverse teachers in Anchorage, we need to do a better job at gathering concrete data that indicates why they leave in the first place. We know some big issues already: teacher compensation, lack of a robust and sustainable retirement plan, ineffective teacher evaluation systems and lack of high-quality teacher PD. Still we need to do a better job at not just surveying teachers’ satisfaction as a formality, but actually responding to their input, and showing them what concrete change results from the feedback they take the time to provide.

Edgar Blatchford

First, a seasoned teacher is a valuable asset. An effective teacher comes from the love of the job and the show of appreciation from others. The teacher often knows what capacity a motivated student has to learn. Students, and professors, leave if they don’t feel appreciated. A good working environment is key to success in the classroom. Second, there’s not much good that comes from hard feelings that have often developed between administrators and teachers. We know this from watching how Outside school districts are impacted and the affects and effects in the classroom.

Sami Graham

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

Pat Higgins

No, more than half of all teachers hired out of colleges from the Lower 48 leave within the first five years. University of Alaska students have a better retention rate ‚but not outstanding. Some steps that would improve retention, including more competitive wages and a return to a defined-benefit retirement system, are not options ASD has the authority or financial resources to implement. It also can’t reduce class size without additional resources. One step it can do to improve teacher retention is to improve their relationship with the board and superintendent. The board needs to listen to concerns of teachers and, when in the best interest of students, agree to change.

Alisha Hilde*

Alaska has a big challenge in recruiting and retaining high quality teachers. We have to look to the Lower 48 to attract teachers. I know the university system is working very hard to build capacity for teacher training, but until then, we’re faced with a significant challenge. There is strong competition for teachers nationwide and attracting teachers to move to Alaska without added benefits is an uphill struggle. I support a competitive teacher retirement system and competitive pay. We have to be able to attract highly skilled teachers and focus on investing in teacher preparation within Alaska.

Nial Sherwood Williams

No. It is interesting though because ASD pays a lot of money. Money is not always the answer. Eliminate the union’s destructive influence and you will allow more great teachers to come to Anchorage.


Kim Paulson

I need to do more research on ASD’s teacher retention rate. Please check my website for an updated answer:

Marcus Sanders

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.

Dora Wilson

Employees are the best recruiters. I have talked to many teachers that have addressed their concerns about the lack of security and retirement benefits. We have lost many educators who seek better long-term security. Working to improve the teacher retirement system would give educators more incentive to stay. Recruitment is always made easier when retention improves.


Carl Jacobs

No. We’re one of the only states where teachers can’t access full Social Security benefits or a pension. That means for people who would choose to spend their lives building up the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, electricians, doctors, caregivers, etc. have nothing secure to fall back on when they’re no longer able to retire. Furthermore, teachers are taking pay cuts in some years because their health plan costs are rising higher than their wages. Teaching is a noble and necessary pursuit, but we can’t expect people to build our futures while asking them to give up the ability to secure their own.

Elisa Vakalis*

This last year resulted in teachers having to make some difficult choices. I am sure we lost some good teachers due to the pandemic and their personal circumstances, but we still have many incredible ones. As we move forward, we will be focused on a more diverse staff that can better represent our student population. Teacher retention comes more from a classroom or work experience than just a simple contract negotiation. There are some things the board can change and others not so easily. If reelected to the board, I remain committed to finding and retaining the very best educators for our students.

* 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?