New Anchorage School District Superintendent, Jim Browder, took the helm from Carol Comeau July 1. Browder met with members of the media at the ASD Offices Monday to outline his course for managing Alaska largest and most diverse school district.
The incoming superintendent has been working to transition into his job with Anchorage School District since the beginning of April. He says his priority is to move the district toward its goal of closing the achievement gap; and addressing that problem, starts with integrating the new ‘Common Core Standards’ into the district’s curriculum.
“Every teacher will follow that sequence so that as youngsters move around they don’t lose large chunks of time because we aren’t following a particular sequence. That’s about the science of instruction. The art is what the teacher does. But for Parents they should see consistency no matter where their student goes to school,” Browder said.
The Anchorage School Board adopted the ‘Common Core Standards back in March. They were the first major step in dealing with some daunting statistics: a graduation rate of about 72 percent and a dropout rate of about 4.5 percent. The ASD has nearly 50,000 students, about 44 percent of which are considered economically disadvantaged. Minority groups make up more than half of the district’s population and they’re struggling at much higher rates than their white counterparts. Administrators say the new national standards will help narrow the achievement gap and boost graduation rates. The standards have been adopted in most other U.S. states. Browder says when school starts, students and parents will be receiving information about the changes.
“I don’t think it will be a huge change. They’ll be some things that used to taught in the fourth grade that will now be taught in the third. There will be a real emphasis on literacy across all subject areas. What I hope parents see in regard to this, as we get the vocabulary lists up and get the sequence of learning lists up, parents will be able to be actively engaged in what students are doing because they know – and it’s easily accessible, what they are studying,” Browder said.
Browder also addressed the issue of budget cuts. The district cut 55 positions back in May, but reinstated a handful of them in June. No more cuts are expected this year, but some of those jobs were reinstated with one-time funds from the state, which means there are likely to be more cuts next year, unless funding increases. Browder did say he would like to bring back summer school, which was cut this year.
“Summer school is one of those things I believe in. I think extending learning for all youngsters – giving them an opportunity will be something we’ll work hard on. That means we’ll have to take money from here to get there,” Browder said.
Browder did not say specifically where he would make cuts to allow for the return of summer school. He also addressed the state’s recent waiver from the Federal ‘No Child Left Behind Act’, now known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The waiver buys schools time to improve achievement. Browder says the waiver is a good thing.
“My goal is that the state of Alaska is allowed to set the measuring stick for us in Alaska. And not have somebody outside of the state setting those marks for us. I believe that we have the ability and the understanding of academic improvement to be able to do those things for all Alaskans,” he said.
As far as the Anchorage School District goes, Browder says, he wants everyone to feel a sense of urgency about improving student performance.
“And assuring that the principal, the teachers in every school, the district-level folks, have a clear understanding that we have work to do. We have done a great job, the work will never be done. As I come in, I want us to get to the next level. And that next level is assuring that we narrow that gap,” Browder said.
Superintendent Browder plans to detail more about how the district will narrow that gap when he unveils a district plan, on August 1.