Through anecdotes, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District leaders told the story of how they are working towards meeting Alaska’s Education Challenge.
At a joint chamber luncheon meeting at the Kenai Peninsula College campus Wednesday, Superintendent Sean Dusek and Kenai Peninsula Education Association President Dave Brighton updated community members on the Alaska Education Challenge, an Alaska Department of Education and Early Development program that tasked a group of nearly 100 Alaskans to rethink the state’s education system to better prepare students for the future’s challenges.
“Governor Walker, in his 2017 State of the State address, spoke of the need to improve public education in Alaska,” the Alaska Education Challenge report states. “The Governor’s comments launched the current effort to craft changes in our education system that will address student achievement gaps and increase graduation rates by making sure that every student across the state has equitable opportunity to learn and succeed.”
The program launched in April 2017, and from a year of conversations, committees and recommendations sprouted three focus areas — increasing student success, cultivating safety and well-being and supporting responsible and reflective learners.
“This was a great collaborative effort the Department of Education did over the past year,” Brighton said. “It involved many community members as well, admin and teachers coming together to create this. We’re getting back towards those core important things. When I look at this I see it as a compass to guide us to the future.”
“These three areas, they’re no-brainers, really,” Dusek added.
The first, increasing student success, highlights the need to grow and enable KPBSD students to compete and match up with students and other children from across the world, Dusek said.
The Education Challenge found that this would push students pass the education “basics” and help Alaska’s students be prepared no matter where they live in the future.
The second focus, supporting well-being and safety, is the basis for any student success, Brighton said. It focuses on the school’s climate, its expectations, bullying and absenteeism, among several others with the understanding that if a student is feels unsafe or uncomfortable, that thought will overpower any chance of retaining knowledge.
“Some of our kids don’t have breakfast in the morning, so we provide nutrition services so they can get a good meal in the day,” he said. “We always work hard to provide safety and security so the classroom is somewhere the kids can come in and feel safe and want to be there.”
The third focus, supporting responsible and reflective learners, is a shift from investing all the power in the teachers and instead, allowing students to be more involved and engaged in their lessons, Dusek said. By creating more student-centered classrooms and making the lessons more relevant to the individual student, Dusek said students may open up to different opportunities. He highlighted several from across the district, including Seward students working with local engineers, a student focusing on weather science after a recent earthquake and a classroom transformed to bring students from Kenai to Harry Potter’s wizarding world at Hogwarts.
“This is a good move on the state’s part to support some of the personalized efforts and leverage all the tools that we have but while maintaining the humanity,” Dusek said. “Teachers are never going to go away, there’s no way they can because someone’s got to provide that guidance.”
Dusek said the next steps in Alaska’s Education Challenge is to bring groups back together and formulate further action plans.
“This is a long term project — things don’t turn around overnight,” he said.
Reach Kat Sorensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.