Testimony of Norm Wooten to the House Finance Subcommittee on Education & Early Development
January 25, 2017 – Thank you for the opportunity to testify this morning. School boards are constantly reminded by legislators that “We cannot continue to do business the same way,” or “We need to become more efficient.” I’m here this morning to assure you that school boards have heard your message and taken it to heart.
Across the state innovations and efficiencies are occurring. However, one of our shortcomings is that we are not always good at sharing those stories with you. I want to share some of those stories with you this morning so you have a sense of the good things happening in our schools for our students across the state.
• The Anchorage School District has implemented a data dashboard called Tableau Online. It is changing the way Anchorage does business. It provides real time student performance information to students, parents, teachers, and the public. It is used by the district to drive instruction, create budgets, track strategic progress and report to the public.
• Kodiak is utilizing distance delivery to deliver instruction to nine remote, off the road school sites. Not only are they delivering core academic courses but also CTE courses such as welding and even music. Students have access to all academic courses offered in town and are gaining industry certifications in welding as well as participating in band and orchestra with their peers across the archipelago.
• St. Mary’s School District is offering a relevance educational program in which traditional lifestyle activities such as moose hunting, eeling, fishing, survival skills among others are taught while integrating core academics in Native learning styles. St Mary’s students consistently achieved AYP, or Adequate Yearly Progress, under No Child Left Behind.
• The Mat-‐Su has partnered with the UA college program and has created opportunities that are seeing a vast majority of their students enrolled in dual credit courses and obtaining high school credit as well as college credit. Students are graduating with college transcript already heavy with post secondary credit hours.
• Galena City School District operates the Galena Interior Learning Academy, a residential school offering core academics as well as CTE certifications in aviation, automotive technology, cosmetology, health science, building trades and culinary arts among others. Students graduate with an open pathway to careers.
• Ketchikan, Kenai, Copper River and Kodiak are Digital Teaching Initiative grant recipients. They have formed the DTI Network and are reaching into almost every district in Alaska to deliver innovative instruction through technology in areas that previously had no access to the coursework being offered.
• Fairbanks has initiated a personalized learning model into their instruction. Each student is being taught at their skill level and being constantly challenged to greater rigor. No more “cookie cutter” teaching in Fairbanks – every student taken where they are and moved upward.
• Northwest Arctic has built a residential program around CTE courses and are bringing in students from both the Arctic and across the state for semester long, as well as shorter period intensives courses. Among the offerings are certified nursing, process technology, culinary arts and construction trades.
• Districts across Alaska are reaching out to each other and forming partnerships to create efficiencies and make better use of their staff as well as their financial resources. These partnerships include Lake and Peninsula and Bristol Bay, Bering Strait and Nome, the Prince of Wales Districts, Southwest Region and Dillingham and Chugach with a number of districts.
• Alaska’s graduation rates continue to improve – Kodiak and Unalaska – 90%; Anchorage 80+%; NWABSD has increased from 50% to the high 70%.
With all this good news what are the challenges facing districts? They are many and are impacting classroom instruction:
• Spiraling health care costs – Alaska is among the highest in the nation.
• Teacher turnover – especially in rural Alaska – approximately 12%.
• A shallow pool of superintendent applicants – this trend exists across the US.
• High costs for travel and transportation – moving people and freight both intra and inter-‐district.
• Bandwidth limitations. Districts are doing work-‐arounds such as downloading material to the LAN during evening hours but live-‐streaming is near impossible.
• Energy costs – both electricity and heating fuel.
• A final challenge that we face is a nationwide trend. And that is the disaggregated which shows that shows, in almost every state, our indigenous students score at the bottom of standardized tests. This is true in Alaska’s Native students as well.
AASB’s Board of Directors, however, believes that we can do better for those youngsters. My Board, in their last long range planning session added a goal, “Empower our boards to increase the academic success of Alaska Native students and increase graduation rates of Alaska Native students who are grounded in their cultural identity with the ability to successfully pursue their goals. “