Anchorage School Board candidate Q&As: What do you believe is the single most important issue facing the Anchorage School District? How would you address it if elected?

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

SEAT B (1-year-term)

Mark Anthony Cox

Our budget is not making a sizable impact in the lives of our disadvantaged student population. As an Anchorage School Board member, I would propose setting objectives to increase our focus and direction on supplementing what those aforementioned students need (mentorship, trauma-informed practices, contracted vocational instructors, more challenging curriculum, educational resources, incentivized teachers based on productivity with similar students and more).

Judy Norton Eledge

According to ASD’s own website, almost 60% of fourth graders are not reading at grade level. That was in 2019 when they were last tested. Can you imagine what it will be now after almost a year out of in-person schooling?

Kelly Lessens

Restoring trust in the district’s leadership. Within ASD and between ASD and the community, many people are deeply frustrated with ASD’s toxic positivity, with their frequent, unilateral rollouts of new and often expensive programs, and with decision-making that is not always transparent. Because the board members are elected to give leadership to the administration, I would place a very clear emphasis on ASD’s need to engage in genuine collaborations with different members of the community -- parents, teachers, subject matter experts and community members at large -- while placing a heavy expectation that the administration’s decisions will, above all, benefit student wellness, equity and learning.

Marilyn Stewart

Returning our kids to school safely and soon. I would continue to work closely with the guidelines of CDC and health officials. Most importantly, our teachers must have input and be a part of the single most important issue facing the Anchorage School District, which is the pandemic.


Rachel Blakeslee

Right now, I think we have got to focus first and foremost on the massive loss of learning that has happened as a result of this pandemic. We need to start by providing increased tailored supports to catch kids up to where they need to be. This includes exploring new opportunities for expanded learning learning time (e.g., extended school-days/school year, structured after-school programs, weekend school, summer school, high-intensity, small group tutoring, etc.). We should start by targeting students who are at the highest risk for long-term learning loss. Additionally, we should balance the dual needs of meeting students where they are while continuing to expose them to grade-level content through scaffolded supports that keep high expectations for and a high belief in all kids.

Edgar Blatchford

The biggest issue is the health and welfare of the Anchorage School District teachers, students and staff. ASD is doing the best they can. I would favor expanding the resources of every student to make it easier, fairer and more justly to succeed. The budget and diversity on the school board are issues that require comprehensive examination every minute during a board meeting and listening attentively to countless parents who are obligated to address issues of their children. Our ears must be wide open to complaints and reasoning of how we can do better. I will listen, respond and attend every school board meeting and every committee meeting. I will meet you where you want to meet. I will accommodate your schedule.

Sami Graham

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.

Pat Higgins

Declining academic results. ASD needs to establish high goals that addresses the academic achievement gap and ensures all students advance academically a full year, every year. While the pandemic is a contributing factor today, academic results were dropping prior to the pandemic. In 2019, there was a significant decline following some curriculum changes. Staff, students and parents have raised concerns regarding curriculum, especially the new reading program. To address the decline of academic results, the school board needs to reestablish the Board Audit Committee. This Committee has access to experts in large school districts to conduct a thorough review of curriculum at very little cost.

Alisha Hilde*

The most important issue facing ASD is student learning. In a global economy, our students must be able to compete with people from around the world. This requires rigorous academics that incorporate 21st century skills. But we cannot achieve our goals without disciplined focus on the intermittent steps that improve student learning. I support investing in professional development for teachers because they’re the ones doing this critical work, and I am adamant about keeping public dollars going into the classroom. I worked collaboratively with the board to engage our community in our strategic planning and successfully pushed for an aggressive growth goal in K-3 reading skills to improve from 40% to 80% proficiency. Foundational reading skills will benefit those students for the rest of their academic career and will allow efforts currently spent on remedial education to be focused on providing new learning opportunities for all students.

Nial Sherwood Williams

The union’s chokehold on the education system. The practice of tenure was never meant for primary education. This merely protects underperforming teachers and does not allow the board to be able to properly handle teachers who are actively destroying the family structure.


Kim Paulson

Currently, I would say the academic, emotional, mental and physical effects from the lack of in-person learning. If elected I would vote to keep schools open while following the CDC and AAP guidelines.

Marcus Sanders

The ASD, teachers and parents have performed the best that they can with distance learning. It has started opening schools and started in-person learning K-8. We must get all schools open, K-12, ASAP. With almost a year without in-person learning, we have to focus our efforts and direct our budget to recover learning loss and begin to improve English language and math proficiency from the 41% average level before the COVID-19 pandemic. It is crucial to return our children to schools safely and soon. This process must be parallel with the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dora Wilson

The root of a strong community is a strong public education system. The youth that we foster the growth of today are the future leaders of tomorrow. We hear frequently from all sides of the political spectrum that there is a lot of work to be done to improve our student outcomes. This problem starts with an undervalued education system. At a statewide level, we have seen the funding of education being consistently used as a political football. Our children are watching, and they see that their futures are not being valued from the top level down in our community. Until we can step forward and agree to leave the political fighting out of education, we will continue to see outcomes that do not reflect the Anchorage values that I know and love.


Carl Jacobs

Equalizing outcomes for every student who enters our schools. I think we can achieve those outcomes by centering students, parents, and teachers, and listening to them about what they need. I believe in setting high expectations for every student, and ensuring they have the resources to meet those expectations.

Elisa Vakalis*

The learning loss of the last year. Our students have lost education, mental health stability, sports and senior year experiences, and the joys of being in the classroom. Getting students back in the classroom safely is my priority, as well as looking forward to a robust summer school program and fall return to school. I refuse to accept that one lost year can’t be made up.

* 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?