The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for Anchorage Assembly to answer a series of issue questions. Read all of them here.
Rachel Ries | School Board Seat: B | Age: 47 | Occupation: Retired military | riesforalaska.com
What is a short summary of your background?
Rachel Ries is a retired veteran, with three children, one grandchild and four rescued fur babies. Rachel served in the military as an enlisted soldier, noncommissioned officer, and commissioned aviation officer. She performed MEDEVAC helicopter operations in Afghanistan. Rachel served in multiple roles — paralegal, auditor, trainer, operations planner, auditor, and as a commander on multiple projects before retiring in 2016. Rachel graduated from CSU Fresno with a Bachelor of Political Science. She is currently attending University of Alaska, Anchorage, to finish her Master’s in Project Management. Rachel and her family moved to Anchorage permanently in 2016, having first visited in 2010. Anchorage is her chosen home after living across the United States and traveling overseas.
Why are you running?
To bring the focus back to excellence in education, restore and protect parents’ rights, to expand and protect school choice, and to prioritize spending in the classroom — with an eye to reducing wasteful, redundant spending within ASD.
What makes you qualified to serve on the Anchorage School Board?
Personally, I am a parent with a school-age child and a member of this community who cares about education as the best way for our community to thrive. Professionally, I am an experienced manager, with an emphasis in personnel and training, as well as planning and completion of complex projects. As a military veteran, I have experience in leadership at every level, from noncommissioned officer to command of a unit. I know how to provide leadership that empowers others to achieve.
What’s your vision for public education in Anchorage?
Protect parents’ rights with transparent curriculum and provide viable school choice options for every student and parent in Anchorage. Invest in teachers and administrators as professionals by treating each campus as unique for education, staff, and services. Prioritize spending in the classroom. Return to classic education that works and highlights actual learning. Make sure that CRT, DIE, and Equity Theory are not taught in our classrooms and a part of the ASD culture by returning to true equality through excellent education opportunities for every student.
What’s the single most important issue facing the Anchorage School District? How would you address it if elected?
True education has given way to a one-size-fits-all model that does not work. Return education to the teachers and administrators at each campus. Allow them to develop working, transparent curriculum that addresses the unique needs of each school’s specific student population. Again, make sure CRT and CRT-like products are not taught or used in ASD.
If I could change one thing in the Anchorage School District, it would be _____. Explain.
If I could change one thing in the Anchorage School District, it would be the lack of transparency and accountability demonstrated by the majority of the School Board and certain administrators and staff. The students in ASD are children. They should not be exposed to any ideology, curriculum or program that is not 100% transparent to the parents. Children with involved parents perform better academically, and subsequently have better opportunities in life. The lack of transparency pushes parents out of the classroom. The lack of accountability prevents any meaningful reform if an issue is discovered; intended or unintended.
Do you have areas of concern about student achievement in the Anchorage School District? What are your specific suggestions for improvement?
Reading, writing and math proficiency continue to trend downward. Scores for minorities and males have historically been low and continue to underperform. If the past policies set down by the School Board worked, why hasn’t this changed? I would look for schools that are doing well, as well as look back to when ASD was academically excellent. Look to those best practices and implement them as applicable based on feedback from each school about what they specifically need.
Do you have ideas for how ASD can improve its career and technical education curriculum?
Yes. Not every student needs to attend college to be successful and well educated. There needs to be equal emphasis on career and technical education to allow students to select programs which provide them with education and skills reflective of their interests and goals.
Are you satisfied with current preschool options? Explain.
Pre-K is an important part of education for many families within ASD. I would like to see Read By 9 and Pre-K robustly supported in the schools. The caveat for Pre-K being that the focus must be on actually prepping children for kindergarten with primary skills, and providing feedback to parents so they can take an active role in preparing their child(ren) for kindergarten.
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, ASD is not doing a good job of retaining quality teachers. The school board should review all policies and listen to teachers and administrators as education professionals. Current policy does not reflect this. Instead it micromanages with unnecessary bureaucracy and micromanagement.
Rate how the Anchorage School District has handled the pandemic, and why? What would you have done differently, if anything?
ASD handled the pandemic abysmally. They used a mandate that affected everyone with one solution. There were “processes” for children with disabilities, religious exemptions, etc. However, none of them were approved. ASD was not an honest broker with its students, parents or staff when it came to meeting community needs, as opposed to the mandated approach. This was driven by the school board time and time again, with no modifications to address parent, staff or student concerns. And finally, in spite of a huge drop in enrollment, ASD increased spending.
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?
Focus on education. Return to partnering WITH parents as critical stakeholders in their child(ren)s education. Admit when something is not working and adjust accordingly such as maintaining the masks as a parent/individual CHOICE policy.
What are your thoughts on how the topic of racism and its history in the United States should be taught in public schools?
Unedited history should be taught in schools for every aspect of United States history. History should not be hidden, rewritten or ignored to achieve an agenda.
What other important issue would you like to discuss?
The school board’s main purpose is to set, amend or cancel policy. The current policies have a top-down approach that does not allow parents to maximize their involvement, does not allow teachers and administrators to maximize their effectiveness, focuses on trendy social topics through micromanaged policy items, and is rife with redundant and top-heavy spending. It is well past time for reform across the board.