Anchorage School District unveils ‘career track’ options for high schools

The Anchorage School District on Tuesday unveiled the specific career pathways it proposes to offer to sophomore students in each of the district’s public high schools.

The plan is a tentative one that the Anchorage School Board is set to vote on at its June 4 meeting. The change is set to have significant impact on how high school education is structured in Anchorage schools. The plan is slated to begin in the fall for freshmen, but the full academies won’t launch until 2025.

The career pathways are part of a broader career initiative proposed by the district earlier this school year that administrators have said is intended to better prepare students for the workforce and entice more students to stay in Anchorage after they graduate.

The plan has so far received mixed responses from families, school board members and staff. Many have lauded the opportunity to give students real-world experience and explore career options early on.

“I haven’t been this excited about anything since middle school,” school board president Margo Bellamy said Tuesday.

But others have cast doubt on whether the district has the resources and staff to pull off such a major change amid larger statewide challenges related to funding and teacher retention, and whether adding a required course could take time away from electives like music and art.

During a Tuesday school board work session, administrators announced the academies that students at each school would be able to select from in the 2025-26 school year. They said the specific academies were chosen as part of a yearlong planning process that included feedback from thousands of families, staff and business partners, and an analysis of local and national workforce data.


Selecting a career track will be mandatory for all students, administrators said. If students are interested in a career track at a school they’re not zoned for, they will have the option to transfer or be bused to other schools, administrators said, though the district is still working out the logistics. Each academy can accommodate between 90 and 250 students, administrators said.

Lingering questions

Despite emerging staffing and funding concerns, the initiative is set to begin next fall with a freshman academy that all ninth grade students will be required to take. As part of that class, students will spend one designated class period per day exploring career possibilities and their own skills and interests. It will replace a required social studies course.

Beginning in the 2025-26 school year, sophomore students will choose a career track and pathway that they will focus on for their remaining three years of high school, the district said. The tracks will include job trainings, internships and certifications meant to help prepare students for life after graduation.

In order to pull off the academies, the district will need an estimated $3.5 million in additional annual funding and 30 more full-time teachers starting in the 2025-26 school year, Kersten Johnson-Struempler, the district’s senior director of secondary education, said Tuesday.

She said the district will need to secure grants, solicit donations or adjust its operating budget to afford the academies. Johnson-Struempler previously named funding and staffing as two of the biggest challenges to pulling off the academies. Other school districts around the country that have launched a similar model have significantly more funding and less severe staffing shortages, school board members and administrators have said.

During the Tuesday meeting, school board member Kelly Lessens asked how the district planned to afford the initiative given a looming budget deficit for the coming school year, years of nearly flat state education funding and the difficulties the board has faced in recent years balancing its budget.

“I truly believe that this program design will increase graduation rates ... and will make the learning relevant enough to see that increase in GPA that we’re striving for,” Anchorage schools superintendent Jharrett Bryantt responded. “We have to figure out what are we going to prioritize to make that $3.5 million worth that investment.”

[Anchorage School District leaders say declining enrollment is driving plans to close multiple schools]

Board members also questioned how the academy offerings proposed by the district differ from school to school. When asked by school board member Carl Jacobs why Dimond would have four academies while other schools would have two or three — despite the fact that Dimond has fewer students than other schools — Johnson-Struempler said the decision was driven by staff and family feedback at Dimond.

“When Dimond presented their proposal to us, there was a lot more variety in the interest levels,” she said. “And so what Dimond has opted to do is have multiple smaller academies instead of fewer larger academies.”

The district is also requesting that the board approve a schedule and graduation requirement change to accommodate the additional, required course, Johnson-Struempler said. Discussion about what the schedule will look like is still underway, but will likely include an alternating schedule of eight classes per day. The school board will need to approve that change.

Also undecided are plans around how the district plans to accommodate students who are interested in an academy or pathway at a different school. Johnson-Struempler said the district was considering a partnership with People Mover, among other options.

The school board is set to review the plan at its May 21 meeting, and vote on it June 4.

Below are the proposed academies:


• Academy of Industry and Construction

• Academy of Health and Human Services

• Academy of Business and Design



• Academy of Business and Innovation

• Academy of Health Services and Education


• Academy of Engineering and Natural Resources

• Academy of Business and Information Technology

• Academy of Leadership in Law, Public Safety & Education

• Academy of Comprehensive Health Sciences

Eagle River

• Academy of Health, Law and Public Service

• Academy of Business and Engineering



• Academy of Industry, Construction and Innovation

• Academy of Community Planning & Infrastructure

• Academy of Education, Health & Human Services


• Academy of Business & Innovation

• Academy of Health Sciences

• Academy of Industry and Construction


• Academy of Leadership in Law and Business

• Academy of Science and Health Services

• Academy of Construction and Innovation


• Academy of Business and Leadership

• Academy of Sciences and Health Services

• Academy of Construction and Innovation

• • •

Annie Berman

Annie Berman is a reporter covering health care, education and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. She previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in San Francisco before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at