Anchorage School Board candidate Q&As: 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?

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: 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?

SEAT B (1-year-term)

Mark Anthony Cox

The state of Alaska 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.

Judy Norton Eledge

I like choice in education. I believe that distance learning could be effective for many students, especially in upper grades, and have no objection to it being continued.

Kelly Lessens

Not outside of ASD’s home school (charter) options.

Marilyn Stewart

Yes. The priority is to educate our kids.


Rachel Blakeslee

I would like to see continued distance learning options available. I believe that kids benefit the most from in-person learning. However, as we are still navigating so many uncertainties with this pandemic, I think it’s important to offer flexible instructional and learning choices that don’t leave parents and teachers fearful of the outcomes. For some, virtual learning is unsustainable. For others, in-person learning isn’t yet safe or feasible. And for an entirely different subset of students, virtual learning has allowed them to thrive in new ways. While every member of our community has struggled and sacrificed as a result of this virus, not all of those experiences have been the same. I think offering a variety of choices is essential to truly and equitably meet the needs of all kids

Edgar Blatchford

Yes. The world is entering a new educational environment. My first class I taught with the University of Alaska Fairbanks was distance delivery, and that was in January 1995. We have come a long way in 26 years and delivery of optional classes is here to stay. We can holdout and say we only want classroom classes, but we may end up as the only one in the classroom. We must accept new models for the educational services have been developing since mandatory education was created. Evolution of how to teach is still with us, and I don’t see it disappearing. How I was taught at Nome Elementary was different at Seward Elementary. How I taught at UAF 26 years ago is totally different today. ASD should be leading the changes!

Sami Graham

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.

Pat Higgins

I believe expansion of computerized instruction that may be used at home or in the classroom needs to be explored. One online program already used in some classrooms for over 10 years allows different students to read the same story at different grade levels. Third graders who are reading at first and fifth grade levels are provided the same story at first and fifth grade reading levels in the same third grade class. This program assesses the students’ advancement and recommends to the teacher when their reading level should be increased to a higher level. This approach may be used for a wide variety of subjects so students can advance more appropriately. We have a challenging situation with the pandemic, but we need to identify opportunities too.

Alisha Hilde*

As the only board member with elementary-age children and a strong supporter of hands-on learning, online education has been a challenge for me to embrace for my family. But I have heard excellent reports of it working well for some students. And I have watched some incredible, high-quality instruction happen over Zoom. I think the one area our district excels at over every other district in the country is providing options for student learning. All kids learn differently. I support providing options for students to learn remotely and new options for hybrid instruction where some instruction happens remotely and some in-person.

Nial Sherwood Williams

In-person school must be started immediately. Distance learning is not learning at all.


Kim Paulson

Distance learning should remain available to families who have concerns with in-person classes and for students whose learning style is more compatible with distance learning while wishing to remain in the Anchorage School District.

Marcus Sanders

Utilize distance learning systems for addressing reading/math gaps so that students and parents can improve those skills, make up class due to sickness.

Dora Wilson

There are numerous things that have been learned due to adapting to changes during the pandemic. We have truly normalized how to have meetings without being face-to-face, or even being in the same building. It has been a great learning lesson for all of us. Working remotely can be done successfully in certain situations. When students need to miss school, for whatever reason, there are now tools in place to accommodate those students. This has also been an opportunity for staff to get top-notch professional development using online platforms, which has proven to be more cost effective. It will also be an opportunity to save on the cost of travel and hotel for outside resources the district contracts out to for services.

Did not respond: Don Loring


Carl Jacobs

I think it is most typical for students to get the best outcomes if they’re in a classroom with a professional whose job it is to make sure they’re mastering concepts and being challenged in the context of their own abilities. That said, there are lots of reasons that traditional model may not fully meet the needs of our students and families, and I support having all options on the table so that students get the education they deserve.

Elisa Vakalis*

One of the highlights of the pandemic and online learning was the opportunity for students to have access to an online experience that they otherwise might not have tried. While we recognize it may not have been ideal for most students, it was for others. I support keeping online-only options going forward. From another perspective, while we feel like we are the downhill side of this pandemic, we do not truly know that. Having the programs and access that were created over the last year can also act as insurance policy.

* 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?