Alisha Hilde

Age: 38

Family: Jason (husband) & kids Marin (10), Nora (8), Henry (6)

Occupation: COVID Homeschool Mom/Part-time Lawyer

Previous government experience or community involvement: I’m in my first term on the Anchorage School Board. As an attorney, I’ve volunteered with Alaska Legal Services and provide pro bono legal work. I’ve been a Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska and a foster parent. I teach Sunday school and vacation Bible school and volunteer teach (pre-COVID) a middle school band club. I work with families in the foster care system and created a free library for children in foster care, distributing (pre-COVID) almost 4,000 books!

Highest level of education: Law Degree (J.D.)

What is the latest book you’ve read? Or, what book do you recommend and why?: Think Again by Adam Grant. This is a timely read as we reconsider assumptions on how best to educate students and focus on evidence-based practices.

Why are you running?

I’m running for re-election to the Anchorage School Board Seat E because I’m passionate about educating children and preparing them for a lifetime of success. As an attorney and former teacher, I know education is the most powerful tool for building healthy, vibrant communities. Given the challenges of the pandemic and recession, there is no better investment or priority in Anchorage than educating children.

What is the role of the school board as it relates to the school superintendent and the operation of the district?

The role of the school board is to govern the school district. The superintendent manages the district. The school board hires, fires and evaluates the superintendent’s performance. This has been a focus of mine because it directly relates to monitoring student achievement. We’ve created an evaluation cycle that incorporates board approval of annual goals and a progress monitoring calendar so everyone in the district knows the expected outcomes throughout the school year. The board also approves the budget while evaluating whether it prioritizes the school board’s stated goals. The superintendent is responsible for building that budget and all the day-to-day operations of the district. It’s very important for board members to respect those boundaries and fulfill our unique role in providing accountability measures.

Do you support public money funding education in public schools? (Yes-No) Why?

I support the public’s strong investment in public education. I think education is one of the most cost effective investments we can make, but with that generous investment, we should see all of our students finding success. I think the area our district excels at over every other district in the country is providing choices for parents in how their student learns. The next step is making sure all of our students can access those opportunities.

Do you have children in Anchorage public schools now? How did they handle pandemic virtual learning? If they attended in the past, how was that experience?

As the only school board member with elementary age children (K, 2nd, 4th), I provided a strong voice for students safely returning to school. While my three kids have incredible teachers, having children stare at screens several hours a day is not healthy or in line with my educational values. One of my children has some extra needs and had serious behavioral and sleep challenges related to processing the sudden loss of relationships and isolation. She improved dramatically once she returned to school. My oldest child hasn’t returned to school yet because our school is restricted by the current EO. She is typically an excellent student and loves her school. But despite her teachers’ incredible efforts, she is very discouraged by being out of school for a whole year. I value infusing technology into education, but hands-on learning with dedicated, highly skilled teachers is what helps kids become lifelong learners!

Can the ASD continue to afford so many different schools of choice? Could these many options be a distraction from the mission of excellence for all students?

Our district is a national leader in providing choices for student learning. Kids have different learning styles, and education is a very personal decision for many families. I think ASD had more challenges providing remote instruction than districts who offer a “one-size-fits-all.” But in typical years, I think our diversity of programs adds to the mission of our district. Even our neighborhood schools have unique features that families and staff have built over the years. As for the budget, the district does a great job negotiating for bulk savings, for example, with curriculum or computers. Procurement procedures apply district-wide, and anything outside those district-wide purchases still has to fit within individual school budgets.

What ideas do you have to incentivize the best and brightest teachers to come to this district and do great work? What ideas do you have to encourage teacher longevity?

Alaska has a big challenge in recruiting and retaining high quality teachers. I think, first of all, we have to talk about the magnitude of those challenges. The University system is working very hard to build capacity for teacher training, but until then, we’re faced with competing with the Lower 48. There is strong competition for teachers nationwide, and attracting teachers to move to Alaska without added benefits is an uphill struggle. I support a competitive teacher retirement system and competitive pay, and we have to focus on investing in teacher preparation within Alaska. I support legislative efforts to allow certified teachers in other states to teach in Alaska for 3 years while working on their certification. This makes it easier for military or other transient families to work in our district. We need to address social security in teacher retirement, and we can look at remote instruction opportunities, although for rural schools that is contingent on improving broadband access.

National studies indicate closed schools and/or prolonged online learning has not been successful for all. What ideas do you have to recover this learning loss?

We knew there would be significant learning disparities throughout the pandemic. That is why I strongly supported getting our most at-risk students back into school for small group instruction last fall. The federal government has provided an influx of funding. The first step is to make sure that funding is directed toward student learning. Then the school board has to work with the superintendent on clarifying expectations on student learning. Some districts have moved toward an optional-year-round model; some are doing robust summer schools. The superintendent will recommend the “how.” As a board member, I will review whether that is targeted toward meeting our goals for student learning and provide public accountability on that progress. But it’s also an opportunity to pivot how we deliver education. So as a board member, I’ll be supportive of efforts to shift away from “how do we make learning happen within existing structures?” to “how to we make learning happen?” and then make the changes to support that child-centered approach.

How will you reach out to the different community constituencies to hear concerns about their students’ education?

I’m very mindful of which voices aren’t being heard and intentional on reaching out to people across Anchorage to hear what they’d like to see happening in education. I think it’s intimidating for most people to go to board meetings to testify and then be recorded speaking into a microphone, so I go to where people feel comfortable. I talk to people at playgrounds, kid events, PTA meetings, teacher coffees, & community councils, and in pre-COVID times, I liked to talk to people before our Board meetings to help them feel more welcomed. Prior to the start of COVID, I was working with another board member to set up at a local grocery store so people could share their concerns in a more relaxed and convenient setting. The advent of Zoom has provided some new opportunities for community engagement, and we’ve seen higher participation in not only board sponsored meetings and forums but also in PTA meetings and Community Council meetings. Meeting in person is valuable, but it’s been encouraging to see more people able to participate.

Given the rich diversity of our school district and community, what is the best approach to equitably meet the needs of all students, regardless of socio-economic differences?

An equitable education is one in which all students have fair access and opportunities to education while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that are preventing full participation of some student groups. In addressing equity, we should expect results that show all student groups are succeeding academically and fairly represented in our lottery/application-based programs. These aims are reflected in our school board’s adopted “Goals and Guardrails” to achieve over the next five years. Consistent progress monitoring and equitable allocation of resources will help us achieve those goals.

What ideas do you have to ensure that English Language Learners and students with disabilities have equal learning opportunities in the Anchorage School District?

Prior to COVID, the district redesigned ELL instruction, and our initial results were showing this more immersion-like model was helping students succeed. I support innovative efforts like this which focus on improving student learning. Our students with disabilities have some of the lowest outcomes in our district. Recruiting and retaining special education teachers and assistants continues to be a challenge. I support the district’s efforts to incentivize general education teachers getting additional training and education to serve our students with disabilities. Trauma informed practices can also benefit our students with IEPs. Educators across our district were focusing on integrating trauma-informed practices into education prior to the pandemic, and those skills will be beneficial as we work to re-engage students after being out of the habit of in-person school for so long.