Elisa Vakalis

Age: 42

Family: Spouse and 4 kids

Occupation: School Board Member & Self-Employed

Previous government experience or community involvement: I have been active in my community councils and schools since 2009. I have been a school board member since 2015, running for my 3rd term.

Highest level of education: Some college

What is the latest book you’ve read? Or, what book do you recommend and why?: Sisters by Choice

Why are you running?

I am passionate about improving education for our children. As someone who was born and raised here, I also want to continue giving back to the community that raised me through my public service.

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

The school board hires the superintendent. In collaboration, the board and superintendent work on the annual budget, policy creation or edits, and the board monitors the outcomes of the goals and guardrails. The school board holds the superintendent accountable (as well as itself). The school board governs; the superintendent manages.

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

Yes. The caveat would be that I support it, so long as the district is spending the money in a fiscally responsible way, in support of student outcomes. Wasteful spending does not deserve additional funds.

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?

Yes I do. As expected, it has been a challenging experience in different ways for each of them as they do not all learn the same way. They are excited to get back in the classroom when the opportunity presents itself.

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?

Yes! School choice is vital for our students. They don’t all learn the same way or have the same educational passions. Whether it is a foreign language, a CTE path, or simply a style of education, choices are a good thing. I have long supported choice in our public schools and will continue to do so.

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?

There are many ways to encourage teachers to stay with ASD. Options include contract negotiation changes, retirement benefit changes, more PD options, lower class sizes etc. Teacher satisfaction comes largely through work environment (much like any job), however there is a community component that likely weighs on our teachers. It is up to us as elected leaders to help build that bridge.

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?

ASD is looking at a robust summer school program to help with the learning loss. While it will be optional, we are hoping that those that need it, attend. We won’t know for certain the amount of loss until we get a new benchmark next fall. Moving forward we have received ESSR2 funds that are intended to get schools open and assist in making up the learning loss.

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

I have always encouraged conversations with the community. Over the last year, we have talked more about reaching out to those that we might not hear from, as well as two-way conversations. Getting comprehensive inclusive feedback is vital to being able to represent the values and vision of the community. No voices should be underrepresented. One of the best ways to do this is through community program partnerships.

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?

We have to meet the kids where they are. Some kids need a little and some need a lot. The goal is to get each student to meet their potential. Our reading proficiency goal demands a doubling from 40% to 80% proficiency in five years. That will take getting the resources to the students/schools based on need.

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

It is two-fold: how we allocate the budget/resources and creating equal access to opportunities. One of the district guardrails is the “Superintendent will not leave student groups underrepresented in lottery/application programs.” That means developing policy or procedures to open those doors to more students. I am committed to this community-supported effort.