Senator Berta Gardner

August 17, 2016

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Serving Midtown, Spenard, and UMed

716 W 4th Ave Suite 411
Anchorage, AK 99501
Phone: 907-269-0155
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Anchorage, AK 99501
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Anchorage, AK 99501
(907) 269-7460

Meeting with the New Education Commissioner

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

This image highlights the frustration that can be felt from those struggling to learn the material being taught to them.
This image highlights the frustration that can be felt from those struggling to learn the material being taught to them.

How do you think the state is doing to meet the needs of our struggling students?  This was one of the several questions I recently asked our new Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) Commissioner, Michael Johnson.

Commissioner Johnson is new to his role as commissioner but not new to the issues that face Alaska’s students.  This became clear very quickly.  He told me that we definitely need to raise our performance in meeting the needs of struggling students and that he is having the department review and consider how we can achieve that.

He shared with me his set of five questions he thinks all teachers should ask themselves everyday:

1) What do we want our students to know?

2) How will we teach them?

3) How will we know they learned it?

4) What do we do if they aren’t learning?

5) What do we do if they already know it?

With all the difficulties we face when it comes to fully funding our education system, there’s a lot of wonderful things going on in classrooms that we should be celebrating.  Commissioner Johnson described Alaskans’ perspectives of public education as a spectrum, where one end views education as a financial burden, and the other end sees it as a department that is chronically underfunded and thus unable to deliver desirable outcomes satisfactorily. Students can easily pick up on our attitudes including the one about their education being a burden – this perception, especially when felt by the students is not conducive to learning.

Commissioner Johnson and I agreed that ideally every student would show up to class well-rested, well-fed, healthy, and ready to learn.  Again this isn’t the case for many of our students.  It’s important to them that we all ask ourselves what our role is in their education - whether we are asking as a parent, guardian, teacher, principal, superintendent, school board member, legislator, or commissioner - we all play a role and have a responsibility to ensure that all of our students have the opportunity to learn in a safe and welcoming environment.  

There is more than enough data out there to suggest that paying for quality education up front, especially for pre-K and K-3 students, gives a large return on investment and reduces the flow of the ‘pipeline to prison.’  Many inmates have learning disabilities (between 30-70% according to recent research articles) and may be where they are today because they didn’t get the help they needed when they were younger.  There are obviously several factors at play but the point I want to stress is that education is an important one, and I’m pleased to see that our new DEED commissioner agrees.

I am optimistic and hopeful that more meaningful discussions on how to improve our student’s education will come from the legislature next session.  I think we have great support from the top, and I know we have support throughout the state.  It takes a village, so let’s work together to make sure our children today have bright futures tomorrow.

I’m Berta and I’m still listening,

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact my office.

signed: Berta

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