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.
“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.