Alaska Dispatch News asked candidates for the April 4 election to the Anchorage Assembly and Anchorage School Board to answer a series of questions on issues facing those bodies. We're publishing their responses daily, issue by issue. The answers were fact-checked when facts were cited and edited for length, spelling, grammar and writing style.
Question: What do you believe is the single biggest challenge the Anchorage School District Faces? What would you do about it if elected?
The biggest challenge we face is student performance. Our mission is to educate students for success in life, but we're missing the mark with some of the lowest reading and math scores in the nation and 44 percent of University of Alaska students needing remedial classes. We are a well-funded school district with the fourth-highest per-student spending in the nation. Research is clear that more money does not improve educational outcomes. Teachers need more flexibility in tailoring the curriculum to best meet our students' needs, and we need to make it easier for parents to be more involved in their children's education.
I believe that our school district does not have public trust in our education system. I believe the solution is engaging our community to take a more active role in education. This needs to be done by someone who is very active in the community and juggling challenges similar to other community members such as:
* being a single parent;
* working a full-time job;
* going to school;
* family commitments;
* recreation/supporting student extra-curricular activities.
Then, based on my own challenges and what others share as challenges, setting up a process to make it easy for people to be involved.
Did not respond to questions.
The State of Alaska has not made education a priority, which has created numerous issues, especially with funding. I believe that a disconnect between our leaders and the students they are supposed to serve is where the problem of line-item budget cuts originate. Due to further budget cuts, we are losing good teachers and staff who have directly impacted the lives our students. If we cannot attract the best teachers or even retain the ones we have, ASD will struggle to reach 90 percent graduation by 2020 or close the achievement gap.
As a community we need to increase parental involvement with their children's education. Greater parental involvement will increase attendance, support our teachers, improve our schools and improve results. I have served on the advisory board at our current school for three years and we have a volunteer parental mentoring program that could be a model for other schools. We need to make the district bureaucracy more responsive to parents' and teachers' needs and concerns. We need the district to consult with parents BEFORE making major decisions such as the Mount Iliamna closing.
There are two big challenges. One is that we will be shaving resources as the budget is held flat or reduced. The right decisions need to be made the first time to get the best results in each classroom. The second is that people who wish to dismantle public education as we know it are getting a boost from the Federal government for the next few years. We have a very open, relatively homogenous district where every student is welcome at each school. We're going to have to fight to keep that.
The academic achievement gap between Alaska and the Lower 48 is the biggest issue we face. We rank 49th among 50 states, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, while spending more than just one other state per student. Many Anchorage schools are approaching the problem by implementing evidenced-based programs and data-driven instruction with informal assessments for progress evaluation.
Hiring good principals is also important. Leadership starts at the top and trickles down. Strong principals encourage teacher collaboration and promote individual strengths among them. The result is better coordination and collaboration for individual student success.
Anchorage School District is facing several challenges; all of them are difficult but are doable. One of the largest challenge is the budget. We need to find ways to have a better budget and lower the costs. I would explore ways of keeping the experienced staff while hiring new staff at lower salaries, temporarily reducing hours and eliminating wasteful practices. We could find ways to raise money through fundraising, grants and improve the taxation system by adding income and sales taxes.
Tomorrow: How to balance the budget.