The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for Anchorage Assembly to answer a series of issue questions. Read all of them here.
Note: Cliff Murray has announced his withdrawal from the race for school board Seat A. His name will still be on ballots because he did not withdraw before the Feb. 1 deadline.
Cliff Murray | School Board Seat: A | Age: 52 | Occupation: Swim coach and small business owner | murrayforalaska.com
What is a short summary of your background?
I was born in Fairbanks and raised in North Pole, where I graduated from North Pole High School. My parents still live in North Pole and their values helped shape me into who I am today. My mother is a retired teacher of 26 years, and my father is a retired correctional officer. I have a daughter in ASD and have been working with children of all ages for more than 30 years. I have a keen interest in seeing our public education system succeed. I believe that under new leadership, and with some creative thinking, we can solve the problems that are facing ASD in the coming years.
Why are you running?
We are a failing school district. We should, and can, do better. With ingenuity and strong leadership, I believe we can turn things around.
What makes you qualified to serve on the Anchorage School Board?
With over thirty years of working with children, parents, and nonprofit organizations, I believe that I am the only candidate for Seat A with the skills to make a positive change.
What’s your vision for public education in Anchorage?
We have to improve our test scores and graduation outcomes. I believe we can be one of the top school districts in the country with proper leadership and vision. I would like to see every graduate be job-ready at the time of graduation. Whether a student joins the workforce, the military, a trade school, or pursues a degree, our students should be ready when they graduate.
What’s the single most important issue facing the Anchorage School District? How would you address it if elected?
Our budget. We don’t have the funds coming in to pay for all of the programs we have. If we don’t find more funds, or if we don’t learn how to do more with less, we will fail our students and teachers.
If I could change one thing in the Anchorage School District, it would be _____. Explain.
Our primary focus needs to change. We seem to be caught in a quagmire of non-academic related issues, and we need to focus on academics. ASD is not a place to push political agendas like critical race theory or sex/gender theory. ASD needs to focus on academics for all students, and job readiness for our graduates.
Do you have areas of concern about student achievement in the Anchorage School District? What are your specific suggestions for improvement?
Our reading and math scores are dismal, in the bottom 40% of the country, to say nothing of the rest of the world. Cut out the waste and focus on the basics and things will improve.
Do you have ideas for how ASD can improve its career and technical education curriculum?
I like what members Dave Donley and Carl Jacobs are pursuing with career readiness, but I would like to see even more. If we can connect more trade associations and businesses with career readiness programs in schools, then we will give more students vision and hope. From the perspective of a student, talk is cheap. We need to show them career path options and the benefits to those paths.
Are you satisfied with current preschool options? Explain.
I would need to see more data showing the benefits of preschool options before I answer this question.
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?
No, we are not doing a good job of retaining teachers...or principals for that matter. Our school board is more concerned about the racial make-up of our teaching staff than they are about listening to and working with their greatest resource....teachers. Teachers and principals are fed up with the current leadership. We are losing at least 10 principals, and maybe as many as 20. The number of teachers we lose will be an order of magnitude greater. Morale is low, and we need people to help raise it.
Rate how the Anchorage School District has handled the pandemic, and why? What would you have done differently, if anything?
I believe that we blew it. There were private schools throughout Anchorage and the country that remained open for in-person learning throughout the 2020-2021 school year. We allowed union leadership and fear to dictate our course of action, and our children and teachers suffered as a result. We should have stayed open during 2020-2021 and we should have not masked at all for 2021-2022. The level of learning has suffered under the strategies implemented by the ASD administration and school board.
Many students are struggling due to pandemic-related challenges, both academically and behaviorally. What are some strategies the school district should prioritize to help students recover from that period?
Keep the masks off of our kids and keep the schools open. If we do these things, I believe that students and staff will begin to recover from pandemic-related issues.
What are your thoughts on how the topic of racism and its history in the United States should be taught in public schools?
We should teach all of history, the good and the bad parts of our history. Our teaching of history should be inclusive of all races, religions, etc.
What other important issue would you like to discuss?
I would like to see less discussion of gender/sex theory in the school district. It is not academically related and should remain in the purview of parents.