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Anchorage School Board candidate Q&A: What’s the biggest challenge facing Anchorage schools?

  • Author: Anchorage Daily News
  • Updated: March 10, 2018
  • Published March 6, 2018

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 clarity.

In this part, School Board candidates talk about the biggest challenge they see facing the Anchorage School District and how they would address it.

Seat E

Alisha Hilde
Age: 35
Occupation: Attorney

The biggest challenge we face is student performance. Our mission is to educate all students for success in life, but we're missing the mark with some of the lowest reading and math scores in the nation and a significant number of our graduates needing remedial college classes. Two of the greatest predictors of student success are parental involvement and quality of teaching. There are excellent programs already working in our district, including parent mentoring. We need to identify what's working and share those successes across our district. I strongly support vocational and tech education and student mentoring opportunities. And we have to be able to recruit and retain great teachers.

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

Attendance – if kids are not in school it is hard for them to learn the material that is being covered. I would like to capture more data on why kids are missing school or coming in late. I would like to partner with community councils in addressing this issue, as many of them are aware of the unique challenges to their communities.

David Nees
Age: Declined to say
Occupation: Retired math teacher, volunteer Alaska Policy Forum education researcher

Safety of the students, Florida showed that even having uniformed police SRO officers in school is not a guarantee of safety. The district should pay for those teachers who want to get concealed carry permits and require all building security and principals to take concealed carry classes and attend active shooter training. We need to harden the exterior of our buildings, and can take a note from TSA.

Don Smith
Age: 78
Occupation: Retired Anchorage business owner

Anchorage and the State of Alaska have been facing major fiscal problems. Anchorage also has a shrinking school student population. A large part of a school district's funds come from the Alaska State Budget. This year alone we have more than 700 fewer students enrolled over last year. This student shrinkage has been going on since I last served on the school board more than six years ago. The Anchorage School District receives close to $6,000 for each enrolled student. $6,000 times 700 equals $4.2 million dollars. The solution is that we have to reduce expenditures since we are not allowed to print money.

Ron Stafford
Age: 68
Job: Transportation consultant

One of the biggest things there is to allow the teachers more authority in disciplining the students. If you don't do your homework now you just get by, they really don't do anything to 'em. They need to have responsibility when they do or don't do what they're told. There need to be repercussions when (students) don't do what they're supposed to.

Seat F

Phil Isley
Age: 62
Occupation: A&P Mechanic

Failure to educate students and overspending. Responsible, logical decisions.

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

Inadequate and unpredictable funding, which hinders the district's and schools' abilities to plan effectively, and has caused five years of continuous reductions in resources/services for our students. For the health of our children and our economy, it is critical that we invest in a strong education system. I will seek continued efficiencies, and will communicate to our legislators the critical importance of early and inflation-adjusted school funding. Finally, I will support strategic investments to lay a solid foundation of literacy in our youngest students, engage students at all levels, close the achievement gaps, and improve our graduation rates.

Seat G

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

The biggest challenge is the funding and persistent loss of students. The solution is to keep the money in the classrooms best we can and retain top teachers. Other challenges are the achievement gap, outdated curriculum, and D2020 goals.

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

The biggest challenge we face is our rising number of failing students. In the 2015-16 school year we had a failure rate of 19.49 percent this year, 2017-18, that rate is up to 21.72 percent, an increase of 2.23 percentage points! We can combat this by lobbying more for a better budget in the hopes of an increase, working to decrease class sizes, using early funding of education to take a little pressure off our faculty, doing everything possible to get parents more involved in education, and finding ways to boost attendance rates.