New Education Non-Profit to Focus on Teachers

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

Leaders unveiled a new non-profit called Education Matters, Inc. on Wednesday in Anchorage. The organization was created to implement recommendations from and Education Summit sponsored by Mayor Dan Sullivan in 2011 and 2012.

Anchorage struggles, along with the rest of the state, with low test-scores and achievement and a high dropout rate. Education Matters Inc. is the organization that will raise the bar, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan says, so that high school graduates are competitive in the international workplace. Cheryl Frasca, the Executive Director of Education Matters and the Mayor’s former budget director, says the non-profit’s first project will focus on teachers.

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

“We’re in the process of designing a series of symposiums that will really examine what it means to be a great teacher. What are the characteristics of those teachers where students are performing so well. The Mayor’s talked a lot about Finland. And that’s one of the models that we are going to look at and we will be having a distinguished scholar from Finland who will be joining us in April for the first kick off symposium,” Frasca said.

Finland is ranked number one in the world for Education. They improved their system largely by upgrading the status and training of their teachers. But it’s unclear exactly how the non-profit will partner with the Anchorage School District, educators and teachers unions to improve outcomes. Education Matters grew out of an education summit in 2011 and 2012, that brought together community members, educators and public officials to brainstorm ways to improve the district’s poor education outcomes.

“What constitutes a great teacher. How do you know when you have one? You know we want those that are producing great student performance – what are the nature of those teaching skills? And so that’s the first focus. And then the next will be looking at how do you then train, principal’s rolls, professional development and other aspects and then the third will be how do you design a program for Anchorage,” Frasca said.

Frasca says Education Matters also hopes to partner with the state to design new teacher training programs.

Mike Hanley is Commissioner for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. He says what happens with education in Alaska largest city will have a statewide impact.

“Making a difference in the lives of our kids is really…it can’t be done by just one person. It can’t be done by the state. And it can’t be done simply at a district or a city level. It really takes a group. So I am thrilled to be able to come alongside the vision that Mayor Sullivan has put forward for Anchorage students, which I feel will have a rippling effect outside of Anchorage and across the state,” Hanley said.

Andy Holleman is President of the Anchorage Education Association. He represents more than 3,500 Anchorage teachers. Hollman says so far, he likes much of what he hears about the new non-profit. He has questions though.

“Obviously to get people to qualify for that you have to compete. You have to compete in terms of work conditions, you have to compete in terms of the resources you offer people. You have to compete in salary,” Holleman said.

How will training and professional development be implemented throughout the district? And he’s also curious where, in a time of budget cuts, the money to pay for all the training will come from?  Frasca says she’s starting off with $65,000 of funding, the remainder of the funds raised from the private sector to pay for the Mayor’s education summit. And she’ll be raising more money and putting a work plan together in the coming months.

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Daysha Eaton, KMXT - Kodiak
Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.