• Our public schools must be adequately funded but it is the quality of our teachers, not our facilities and equipment, that make the critical difference
  • Our focus needs to be on attracting and retaining the very best educators who approach their positions as a calling, not just a job
  • Those schools that have added Career and Technical Education (CTE) into their curriculum have proven to be hugely successful. This option needs to be added to other schools with a particular focus being preparation for Alaska jobs.
  • All children deserve a healthy start in life that prepares them for successful academic experience. That means experience with literacy – talking and interacting with the printed word every day.

As a product of the public school system here in Alaska from kindergarten through high school, I received an educational foundation that amply prepared me for college and law school. While I realize much has changed since that time, all four of our children who graduated from West High School in Anchorage were equally well prepared for college and professional studies. They had a myriad of opportunities and many quality teachers who helped set their course.

In their elementary years, our children were also fortunate to attend Sonrise Christian School where I served on the school board. I know firsthand the benefits of a small private school system with a high level of parental involvement and ownership in the success of the programs and accomplishments of the students. Still, when our children discuss the impact of those years on their lives, they reflect upon a certain principal who took a personal interest in each child and a third grade teacher who made learning fun.

Our public schools must be adequately funded. Even in times like the present fiscal crisis maintaining funding for public education needs to be a priority. We must also remember it is the quality of our teachers, not our facilities and equipment that make the critical difference. When I graduated from high school, my family was still struggling from the devastating financial consequences we suffered from the ’64 earthquake. I was only able to attend my first year of college because my former third grade school teacher, Mrs. Keveren, invited me into her family’s home in Oregon where I lived my freshman year of college because I could not afford the dorm.

Our focus needs to be on attracting and retaining the very best educators who approach their positions as a calling, not just a job. Several of my elementary school years were spent in Quonset hut buildings at Fort Greely. I was fortunate to be a student in the classroom of Mrs. Keveren, with whom I still correspond and visit today. I felt no disadvantages from learning within the confines of a Quonset hut, only rewards from having been taught by a remarkable teacher.

But I realize that not all students’ experiences have been as satisfactory as mine and our high school graduation rates are deplorable. Our education menu is too limited. We will not increase our percentage of graduates by implementing another standardized testing system based either on federal or state criteria. Those high schools in Alaska with the highest rate of graduation are those that offer as part of their mainstream education curriculum, training in the trades. We need to look at schools with the highest rates of graduates and adjust the curriculum in those with the lower graduation rates.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center just released the “School Discipline Consensus Report”. The report is the work of a group of 100 expert advisors to identify evidence-based recommendations to change the system of discipline in public schools to keep more kids in the classroom and out of the juvenile justice system. The recommendations from this research should be considered as part of our effort to improve graduation rates.

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