Anchorage School Board candidate Q&As: Are you happy with current class sizes in the district? Would you suggest specific changes?

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: Are you happy with current class sizes in the district? Would you suggest specific changes?

SEAT B (1-year-term)

Mark Anthony Cox

In the ASD, we have a burgeoning population of middle school students, and at that stage of learning they need to be in smaller class size to further mitigate the distraction that inhibits their learning.

Judy Norton Eledge

The only changes I would like to see are in the K-2 classrooms. I would like for their sizes to always stay around 20.

Kelly Lessens

ASD needs to follow evidence-based protocols and cap K-3 classrooms at less than 15 students and classrooms for grades 4-8 at 25 students to promote real improvements in reading. In addition, it needs to provide all teachers with the ongoing professional development they need to properly assess and meet all students’ needs.

Marilyn Stewart

No, I am not happy with the current class sizes. Students cannot learn in a packed classroom. It is impossible!


Rachel Blakeslee

Right now, class sizes in ASD range across grade levels and schools. Without a class size cap, some classes have grown to unmanageable levels. Research shows that larger class sizes slow and negatively impact academic gains. I would advocate for caps to class sizes to ensure that teachers are able to provide the differentiated instruction we know kids need, and which evidence indicates could actually help improve proficiency in core subjects like reading, which we know is a dire issue right now.

Edgar Blatchford

I have taught small classes and large classes. I think the ideal size, at least for me, is about 15. I have had many times 15 in the classroom. Students should have the equal opportunity to get advice from the teacher.

Sami Graham

Low class size, particularly in the lower grades, is one of the best ways to raise proficiency. It is expensive. I would use Title money and grants to lower class size, not add instructional coaches or administrators.

Pat Higgins

No. The majority of Lower 48 states have adopted maximum class sizes that limits K to third grade at one teacher to 15 students and fourth through twelfth grade at one teacher to 25 students. Florida established a ratio of one to 18 for all grades. ASD had a study conducted by Picus Odden to determine adequate funding. The methodology was accepted in Lower 48 court cases when determining adequate funding requirements of state governments. ASD will require over $120 million more to be adequately funded using this study’s conclusions. It would require hiring hundreds of teachers. ASD needs to ensure all unnecessary expenditures outside the classroom not directly related to student outcomes are kept at a minimum.

Alisha Hilde*

While I value smaller class sizes, our budget doesn’t support lowering class sizes across all grades. I strongly support lowering class sizes in K-3 to support reading instruction. Reductions in class sizes at higher grades could come from incorporating more opportunities for distance learning. That will depend on community interest and whether it best supports student learning.

Nial Sherwood Williams

Classroom sizes should be eight to 12 children until sixth grade. Beyond that, up to 20 students is acceptable.


Kim Paulson

This is a question I would direct toward teachers. Class size should be at a level which allows teachers to do their job well.

Marcus Sanders

Smaller class size increases the time a teacher has with each child. Recruit classroom volunteers (for example, foster grandparent program, PTA and other volunteers) to do some tasks that would free teachers to work with those that need help to improve.

Dora Wilson

In determining class size there are many considerations. Among these considerations are goals, resources and considering the needs of the specific population and other demographics being served. When considering Pupil Teacher Ratio (PTR) you are always looking at every possible way to keep that PTR ratio as low as possible, because I understand how important it is to keep the ratio as low as possible. Since the pandemic began, it has been evident that face-to-face contact is extremely important for all students, but particularly for the students that have proven to be the lowest performers.


Carl Jacobs

Generally, no. Class sizes are a constant battle. As we lose teachers and struggle to recruit or retain their replacements, class sizes increase, and students suffer. A common consensus exists -- lower student-to-teacher ratios improve outcomes across the board. We must wisely utilize, retain and advocate for resources to ensure students are given the best possible chance to succeed.

Elisa Vakalis*

I would love lower class sizes! As someone who has worked on the budget in-depth over the last six years, I can tell you it is not easy. We have had flat funding with annually growing expenses. It is an annual dance of how to improve our programs wile keeping a balanced budget.

* 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?