It will take all of us working together
Lon Garrison, AASB Executive Director
With the new school year upon us, there is anxious optimism and troubling concern. We are hopeful that school is returning to something more familiar, if not better than before. On the other hand, there is deep concern about our ability to meet the challenges resulting from the pandemic, like learning loss and an acute staff shortage. The effects of COVID, combined with the ideological and political divide focused on public education, have created the perfect conditions for a staffing crisis and a worry about educational equity. If we aim to provide Alaska’s students with an excellent education every day, it will take all of us working together for a common goal to overcome the many challenges our public education system faces today.
The staffing crisis is now a nationwide phenomenon. Alaska has been experiencing this challenge for years, often reducing its severity by recruiting heavily from the lower 48. Now, the rest of the country is facing what we have experienced. There are no longer those small reservoirs of new teachers to help meet our demand. Locally, school districts are faced with all kinds of staff shortages. Presently, the Anchorage and Mat-Su school districts have had to take extreme measures, canceling or delaying bus service for thousands of students. Without intention, this becomes an issue of equity for those hundreds of families without the means to get their students to school.
Unfortunately, during these times of unusual and extreme stress, many students bear the brunt of inequitable opportunity loss. School boards and staff already know that even in our previous educational paradigm, equity was challenging to achieve and many times ignored. Public education is open to any Alaska student, regardless of ethnicity, gender, gender identity, economic status, or physical or mental condition. We must welcome them all, and that is the beauty of it.
This past July, the AASB Board of Directors tackled the idea of educational equity and adopted a statement. It seemed strange to realize we had never specifically expressed the Board’s expression of equity, although it has been an integral part of our work for decades. The statement reads:
AASB believes in educational excellence for all of Alaska’s students. Equity in public education means the fair allocation of resources, based on need, to address opportunity gaps and promote success for every student in Alaska. Students come to us from various backgrounds with different strengths and at varying degrees of readiness. What works for one student may not work for another.
AASB is obliged to support Alaska’s students by providing school leaders with quality educational services such as policy, planning, hiring, and training to ensure successful outcomes for all students by respecting their race, ethnicity, religion, language, abilities, socioeconomic status, country of origin, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity.
AASB offers tools and resources to school boards and school districts to identify and eliminate systemic barriers and discriminatory practices, prejudices, and beliefs.
As I read this statement, I see its simplicity of purpose and its overall capacity to influence our work. The statement reinforces my belief that it is essential for all of us to work together to find solutions that promote equity and help ensure an excellent education for every student every day. We must share leadership and support each other; school boards, superintendents, bargaining units, local and tribal governments, and so on. We must refrain from pointing fingers and focusing on the “big people problems” when there is so much to be done for the “little people,” our students.
I wish you all the very best for a productive, responsive, and intentionally equitable year of education with each of your districts.
Executive Director, AASB