Politics

Anchorage School Board candidate Q&A: How would you help close achievement gaps?

  • Author: Anchorage Daily News
  • Updated: March 10
  • Published March 6

The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for mayor and the Anchorage School Board in the April 3 election to answer a series of questions on issues facing the city and the Anchorage School District. We're publishing their responses daily. The answers were fact-checked when facts were cited and edited for spelling, grammar and clariety.

In this part, School Board candidates say how they would address achievement gaps in the Anchorage School District among economic, racial and ethnic groups.

Seat E

Alisha Hilde
Age: 35
Occupation: Attorney

Retaining excellent teachers, communicating the importance of parental involvement, streamlining the process for community groups to offer after school programs and incorporating arts and sports all promote student success. I'll bring a trauma-informed understanding of the challenges families across our district face and will push for high expectations for all students. I support bringing more specialized programs to neighborhood schools. We have to be responsive to what teachers are saying is effective and partner with community groups working to address these disparities to increase our collective impact.

Tasha Hotch
Age: 40
Occupation: Program manager for the Alaska Community Health Aide program

Children need role models with whom they can identify. I would like to see leadership and staff that reflect the diversity of our community. Every year we spend money to recruit people to come to Anchorage from out of state, and I would like to focus on recruiting people that already live in Alaska. I have been learning more about ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences), and would like to see more training in this area for all ASD staff, and have it open to community members.

David Nees

Age: Declined to say

Occupation: Retired math teacher; volunteer education researcher with Alaska Policy Forum

First of all, end failed policy of economically segregating students in neighborhood schools. It is has been proven to be ineffective for education delivery and extremely costly. Let Title I funds follow the child, and convert more schools to charter and alternative, focused on the poor neighborhoods. Where are the Hmong and Samoan language schools? Where is the NAACP college prep academy schools? Secondly, end all social promotion. Hold students accountable for mastering content, end social promotion. Mastery checkpoints at first grade, fourth grade, sixth grade and eighth grades instead of seat time credit are necessary to improve results. Empower teachers to require intervention.

Don Smith
Age: 78
Occupation: Retired Anchorage business owner; former state legislator, Anchorage Assemblyman and School Board member

Academic achievement should be the MAJOR goal of the ASD, however, this should not be done on the backs of our brightest students. We should strive to improve ALL students' academic qualifications. There will always be high achievers and some students will not do as well academically. I'm not in favor of a cookie-cutter approach to how we train our students. Sometimes I feel like there are people who want everyone to turn out the same. That is wrong. We should try and give each student the best education possible but obviously within our means.

Ron Stafford
Age: 68
Job: Transportation consultant

The problem there I think is treating different students differently. I think they need to be pretty much held accountable whether they're white or black or Indian or whatever. They need to be held to the same standard than putting up different standards for different people.

Seat F

Phil Isley
Age: 62
Occupation: A&P Mechanic

Elect school board members by district and not at large.

Deena Mitchell
Age: 56
Occupation: Currently a parent, volunteer and homemaker. Past: Advertising executive, economics instructor at Indiana University

All students should be held to the same standards and expectations. We must 1) Identify students who need support when they are young; 2) Partner with families to support student success, and 3) Connect families with community resources. At all levels, we can create systems to ensure that every student has an adult in their school with whom they have a personal connection. Having more career technical and hands-on courses can engage kinesthetic learners, and often prepares students for employment upon graduation. Co-op and mentor opportunities also prepare students for workplace and post-secondary expectations.

Seat G

Elisa Snelling
Age: 39
Occupation: Accountant, current School Board member

The ASD is already focusing on working with these ethnic groups from a social and cultural place. Understanding the why will lead us to the solution and data exists to demonstrate that we are making small improvements in the right direction.

Irene Weisman
Age: 21
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom

I advocate for public preschool to be provided to all students, especially those who are at-risk or economically disadvantaged. According to the Perry Preschool Project study, placing at-risk students in preschools resulted in them having a 44 percent higher graduation rate than their at-risk counterparts. It also resulted in those who attended preschool having 50 percent fewer teen pregnancies, being 46 percent less likely to serve jail time and 26 percent less likely to have received government assistance by age 40. They also had a 42 percent higher median monthly income than their counterparts. Preschool education helps close the achievement gap.

Coming Saturday: Candidates for Anchorage mayor talk about why they want the job.