Anchorage School Board candidate Q&As: Why are you qualified to serve as an Anchorage School Board member?

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

SEAT B (1-year-term)

Mark Anthony Cox

As a recent graduate of the Anchorage School District to later serve his country in the United States Army, be a guest speaker and mentor in Anchorage Title 1 schools and University of Alaska Anchorage, and then start a charitable nonprofit to serve his community in the midst of COVID-19, it has been shown that serving the future and families is a way of life to me and not a political position.

Judy Norton Eledge

As a retired teacher and principal in both ASD and rural Alaska I bring with me a very diverse background. After retirement I spent 15 years working as a coach and mentor in low performing schools in rural Alaska, often sleeping on a classroom floor to do so. I didn’t do that because I was not passionate about children. I bring the most diverse educational background to any candidate running or currently on the board. The Anchorage School District, students, parents and the community need that experience. Most of all, I care deeply about the success of all students in the ASD and ensuring they have the skills necessary for a productive life.

Kelly Lessens

My experiences with leading ASD60 and in serving as the parent liaison to ASD’s Wellness Pilot gave me firsthand experiences in understanding how school board members’ leadership has a direct bearing on the priorities that are laid before the administration. I’m the only candidate for Seat B intending to make decisions and allocate resources with respect to promoting the whole child; with a track record that has improved student outcomes in ASD; who is a parent with children currently enrolled in ASD and who understands the challenges that Zoom-based school entailed; who has promoted evidence-based, equitable return-to-school frameworks; who has sought out community members’ values throughout this campaign; and who is committed to pursuing the resources that students need to succeed.

Marilyn Stewart

I care deeply for our kids. As a dedicated public servant, I have worked at every level of government. Non-white students makeup roughly 58% of the school district students. The minority is the majority. I witnessed firsthand the progress that can happen in our school system when all children are given an equal opportunity to succeed. As a veteran, I will bring the dedication, discipline and a willingness to listen in my role in providing representation for all especially for our children. I am not an educator, but I have the RIGHT heart and the RIGHT attitude to do the RIGHT thing.


Rachel Blakeslee

As a mom and candidate who has had direct classroom experience, I bring a relevant perspective and understanding of the challenges that teachers and parents face because I’ve literally walked in their shoes. I began my career in education over ten years ago as a bilingual teacher in a Title I school. My experiences in the classroom catalyzed my desire to fight for better outcomes for all kids. I also have a dual background in environmental justice and education that stems from my unwavering commitment to ensure every child has the chance to grow and develop in a healthy, supportive learning environment. I believe my interdisciplinary background will allow me to serve the diverse needs of our diverse student population and approach decisions through a holistic, student-centered lens.

Edgar Blatchford

I am experienced in cutting budgets in local and state government. As a member of cabinets under two governors, the major responsibility in cutting the budget was to do so without harming the mission of why the departments existed. I also have the experiences in heading the lead agency under Governor Hickel that created the Alaska Job Corps Center in Palmer. I worked closely with Sen. Stevens and Mat-Su Borough Mayor Dorothy Jones. As a long-time resident of Seward, I remember well the purpose of the Alaska Vocational Technical Center that trains students to the jobs of thousand from the Lower 48. I prefer to concentrate on the future and I believe that Alaska’s students are among the best in the country. That dedication to motivate the best comes from deep inside of my heart and soul.

Sami Graham

I have a heart for kids, a heart for Anchorage, the education and years of experience as a teacher, counselor, assistant principal and principal in the ASD, as well as the private setting. Education is my wheelhouse. I can help raise student achievement. It’s imperative.

Pat Higgins

As a former school board member, I know ASD operations and understand the proper role of the board. The board needs to listen to staff, students and parents to make the best decision for student success. The board needs to provide direction to the district. And the board needs to hold the district accountable. The current board has delegated these responsibilities to the superintendent. I understand the expectations of the National School Board Association. As the prior chair of the school board audit committee, I understand the importance of holding the district accountable. I am the only candidate that understands how prior boards have contributed successfully to the success of students.

Alisha Hilde*

A successful school board will have a good mix of skill sets. I focus on long-term planning and accurately identifying problems so we can pursue innovative solutions. I rely on well-reviewed research when making decisions. I have a Master of Public Policy in law and economics, so you’ll often hear me discuss the costs and benefits of options. For example, when I advocated to reopen schools, I weighed the cost of harm to children and financial impacts to families against the very serious concerns of virus transmission. Using the best available research, I could confidently support our district’s mitigation practices in returning children and staff safely to school.

Nial Sherwood Williams

I will follow all state laws, municipal code and school board bylaws and hold board members accountable to the same.


Kim Paulson

I am a member of the community who is concerned with the direction education has been taken. I am also a parent of two ASD graduates and a sophomore who is still enrolled in the district.

Marcus Sanders

With my experience as an Alaskan who has attended all my secondary education, K-12 and a graduate of East High School, as a father who has two children enrolled in the ASD and with seven years’ employment with the Anchorage School District as a teacher’s assistant for special education and special needs, safety and security specialist for two years and for five years coaching basketball, track and field and volleyball, I bring a lifetime of experience to the board as a community-oriented and family man to make the ASD work better for our citizens, and most importantly, our children.

Dora Wilson

I have lived in Anchorage for the past 25 years, raised three amazing children (now young adults) and my husband and I have been licensed therapeutic foster and adoptive parents for the past 16 years. I have a Master of Arts degree in Business Organizational Management. I am a member of the Resource Family Advisory Board as the AK Southcentral representative. This board was created by the Office of Children Services (OCS) with the purpose of advocating for resource families. I am a co-founder of AK Hopes & Dreams, providing free youth leadership summits to high school students. I have also worked with the Anchorage School Business Partnership Program for the past 20 years as a board member and advocated for strengthening partnerships between schools and the business community.


Carl Jacobs

My wife Alicia and I have served as licensed therapeutic foster parents to approximately 40 children over the last decade. We will be celebrating our 11th high school graduate this May, and couldn’t be more excited to help young Alaskans successfully transition to independent life. I’m intimately familiar with not just the traditional classroom experiences, but how well our systems are functioning when it comes to serving students who need extra support -- either through IEP’s, 504 plans or gifted educational programming. I’ve seen what’s working, what’s not and what the impact is, and I have a lot of ideas about ways to make those systems work better by partnering with our community.

Elisa Vakalis*

I have served on the school board for almost 6 years. Through that time I have learned about how ASD operates, educates, budgets and where the opportunities for improvement are. I have proven that I can effectively keep politics out my my decisions. There is no learning curve for me, I am ready to lead from Day One.

* 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?