Senator Berta Gardner

November 30, 2015

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Serving Midtown, Spenard, and UMed

716 W. 4th Ave Suite 411.
Anchorage, AK 99501
Phone: 907-269-0174
Call Me: 1-800-331-4930

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Anchorage Office
550 W. 7th Ave, Ste 1700
Anchorage, AK 99501
(907) 269-7450

Lt. Governor Byron Mallot
Anchorage Office
550 W. 7th Ave, Ste 1700
Anchorage, AK 99501
(907) 269-7460

An Education on Education

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Denise Juneau presenting at 62nd AASB conference.
Denise Juneau presenting at 62nd AASB conference.

The Association of Alaska School Boards held its 62nd annual conference in early November. The keynote speaker, Montana’s State Superintendent of Schools, described the innovative approaches Montana is using to improve education for all students, including the large Native population.

Some initiatives she highlighted include:

  • Graduation Matters Montana seeks to increase the graduation rate for high school and career-ready students by working to create connections for students between schools and community organizations. 
  • Montana Schools of Promise uses federal grants to increase support for schools that need it most. The support can be in teacher development, direct work with students, and building connections with parents and community partners.

These initiatives provided plenty of food for thought for school board members, administrators and educators from across Alaska.

Senator Berta Gardner presenting at Alaska PTA conference.
Senator Berta Gardner presenting at Alaska PTA conference.

Additionally, in mid-November I was among nine legislators at the Alaska PTA conference. The central focus was to not balance the state budget on the backs of our children. And I agree. This is going to be an extremely difficult year to even maintain services, let alone expand opportunities for quality public education statewide.

Is fair the same as equal?

Education Week Research Center ranked states on ability to provide resources equally to their schools. Alaska was the only state that was found to give more resources to our rural and more impoverished areas. This is because those areas need more resources to provide adequate education to students. The image below highlights this point. As parents, we understand that equity in meeting the needs of our children can be seen as giving exactly the same resources to each child, or as striving to meet the needs of each child while understanding that one child might require more resources than another. As a state, our goal is to ensure that every student has the opportunity to succeed.

Sharing makes the difference

To further explore this point, my office has explored the relationship between reading proficiency and poverty levels across Alaska. The chart below gives an idea of how our school districts compare to each other, and which ones are lagging behind. It is not a surprise that more impoverished areas struggle while wealthy areas tend to experience better school performance. Interestingly, we looked into the outliers – high preforming/low income districts and discovered that each one was an anomaly – a district with only one school, for example.

The chart below gives an idea of how our school districts compare to each other, and which ones are lagging behind.
If you’d like to explore this graph yourself, please feel free to visit this link:

To sum up, our students need the following basic things to succeed in their schooling:

  • Highly effective teachers
  • An encouraging adult (other than their teacher) that supports them in their education,
  • To be able to find relevance for themselves in their education, and
  • Structure with fair rules, fairly applied.

When we cannot give schools all the resources we’d like to, we can strive to communicate that each student and each school is important and matters to this state.

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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