Anchorage School Board approves career academies with opt-out provision after 9th grade

Two men sit at a table.
Anchorage School District Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt (left) and Anchorage School Board President Andy Holleman during the board meeting on June 4, 2024. (Tim Rockey/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage School Board approved a career academies plan for high schools Tuesday night by a 6-1 vote. But an amendment allows students to opt out of the program after 9th grade.

The district will launch the academies at eight high schools this fall. Incoming freshmen will explore career paths for one of six class periods, and select a career path to continue as sophomores. Most high schools will have three options for students to choose from.

The amendment allows 10th through12th grade students to opt out, but still requires 9th graders to take the Freshman Academy Career Exploration class. Anchorage School District Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt said the amendment language allows the district to seek additional funding.

“I think that this is really allowing the program to show its value to the community and to the school board while giving us the time without derailing our intent, which is really a district-wide implementation that’s aligned to board goals specifically around graduation rates and student secondary success,” Bryantt said.

Mark Foster, a former chief financial officer for the district, recently wrote an op-ed in the Anchorage Daily News calling the plan “fatally flawed,” but district staff say the change will help improve graduation rates and provide job training.

Board member Margo Bellamy said she believes the board can address concerns as the academies launch next fall.

“I know in my soul that this is good for kids,” Bellamy said. “We have not always had the staff we need, we have not always had the money we need, but we can figure this out.”

Most of the 11 people who testified at the meeting were in favor of the plan, including several members of the business community. But two parents spoke in opposition, including Jarrett Boling, whose daughter also questioned the board’s plan. He said he was worried about losing class time for core subjects.

“How can we ensure that our math classes — particularly math curriculum that needs continuous instruction — be successful with less time?” Boling said. “How does it look when ASD can’t fill current open positions, but assumes they can find 30 new experienced teachers for this program?” 

Students can choose from career paths such as health science, law and public service, engineering, construction technology and product management, and business administration, among others. The district plans to provide transportation for students to attend a career academy outside their home school.

At a work session last month, district administrators said it would take an additional 30 teachers and $3.5 million to fully fund and staff the plan. 

Board President Andy Holleman said he saw both value and risk in passing the measure. He spoke about his first teaching experience in the district nearly 30 years ago, when a fully-equipped woodshop stood empty for years at Dimond High School. 

“We are starting on a path that we may not have the money to complete,” Holleman said. “Standing up the academies will be expensive. Those kinds of classes consume stuff, expensive stuff every semester, as well as just finding the right people to teach them. So I wish I knew for certain it was going to work, but I do absolutely think it’s worth pushing in that direction and bringing those opportunities back to our students.”

Members of the public and board members raised concerns about staffing and funding, as well as the potential negative impacts of the decrease in core class time.

Chief Human Resources Officer Martin Lang said the district has not had difficulty hiring high school teachers in recent years, and Type M teaching certificates are attainable for industry professionals who wish to teach their trade in schools. 

Anchorage Chief Equity Officer Uluao “Junior” Aumavae visited the career academies in Nashville schools with other district leaders, and believes the job training will benefit students.

A man in a blue suit jacket speaks at a school board meeting
Anchorage Chief Equity Officer Uluao “Junior” Aumavae speaks in favor of career academies during an Anchorage School Board meeting June 5, 2024 (Tim Rockey/Alaska Public Media)

“I would encourage the board today to do what’s best for the city and I believe that’s to approve this for our current and also future workforce,” Aumavae said.

Kelly Lessens was the lone “no” vote.

Board members plan to monitor progress and address any issues during the rollout of freshman academies this fall before the full career academies model begins in 2025.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated how many class periods Anchorage students will have in a day next year. Students will have six classes per day, not eight.

a portrait of a man outside

Tim Rockey is the producer of Alaska News Nightly and covers education for Alaska Public Media. Reach him attrockey@alaskapublic.orgor 907-550-8487. Read more about Timhere

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