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Meet the candidate: Pat Higgins

Pat Higgins is running for a seat on the school board in this year's municipal election.
Pat Higgins is running for a seat on the school board in this year's municipal election.(Courtesy Pat Higgins' campaign team)
Published: Mar. 12, 2021 at 3:14 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Pat Higgins is running for a seat on the school board. Alaska’s News Source asked him to answer some questions about his campaign. Here’s what he said.

What school board seat are you running for?

SCHOOL BOARD SEAT E

Can you give me a short description of yourself?

I came to Anchorage in 1983. I have a degree from LSU and extensive HR experience in public and private organizations throughout Alaska. I have been a member of senior management team in five Alaska hospitals. I believe in public service and volunteer with numerous non-profit organizations. My wife and I sponsored the first traveling Smithsonian exhibit and US Astronaut to visit Anchorage schools.

I have three children that attended ASD schools. I will have six grandchildren in ASD schools this Fall. I like optional programs, and my wife and I were involved in starting Montessori optional programs in Denali Elementary.

I am a former Anchorage School Board member from 2008 to 2017. I want all students to be successful and believe I have the knowledge of ASD operations and Board responsibilities to help improve student success.

Why are you running for school board?

I believe the current School Board is not representing students, staff or the general public. At this time, the Board is following the directions of the Council of Great City Schools (CGCS), an organization controlled by superintendents. The CGCS believes the only role of the Board should be to approve and support all recommendations of the Superintendent. In 2016, the President of the CGCS told the Anchorage School Board it was unethical when they changed the budget proposed by the Superintendent,. The Board at that time strongly disagreed.

The National Association of School Boards (NSBA) strongly disagrees with CGCS. The Board should give strategic voice to what the public wants, provide operational guidance to the district, and ensure accountability for the district. Acting on behalf of the public, the Board should rigorously monitor school district performance and are accountable to the public for results.

During my nine years on the Board, the Superintendent reported tp the Board. While we supported the Superintendent and staff, the Board gave strategic directions and had an Audit Committee that was effective. The Board established higher goals than recommended by the Superintendent, and graduation rates grew from low 60 to over 80 percent while dropout rates were cut almost in half. The Board revised proposed budgets and administration costs went down nine years in a row. The Board directed changes to low performing curriculum, such as elimination of Everyday Math. The Board refused to support a request to eliminate Middle School and revise high school class schedules, strongly opposed by staff, administrators, students and parents. While Chair of the Board Audit Committee, we revised purchasing policies that improved competitive bid practices and cut [between] $300,000 to $500,000 every year. The Board established new academic goals, focused on all students advancing academically a full year.

The Board CAN make a difference for student success. There are serious issues, and we need a serious Board. Academic scores went down in 2019 before the pandemic. Staff, students and parents have expressed concerns that the new reading curriculum is to blame. The only thing the Board has done is adopt weaker policies recommended by Administration. They need to be focused on student success and immediately conduct an audit of curriculum. They need to demand accountability. I am running because I have the experience to help a new Board contribute to student success and to be a voice for students, staff and the general public.

What will be your focus on the school board?

My focus will always be student success. That requires the Board to establish high goals, demand data from the Administration that is useful in Board decisions and oversight, conduct audits using subject matter experts on best practices, providing clear direction to the District that will include appropriate policies, and listening to all involved parties prior to making a decision. I believe we need to explore best practices in administration and in the classroom. I will be focused on listening to the public, staff and students. As in the past, I will be responsive to questions and concerns from the all interested parties.

Do you think students should be back in school, learning virtually, or a hybrid?

I believe we should follow guidelines that will allow staff and students to return as soon as possible in a safe manner. At this time, I believe we should be reopening schools. I think virtual learning will always be part of public education in the future. We must stop holding back students who need more advanced studies! One way is computerize programs that ASD has been using such as Achieve 3000. All students in an elementary class received the same story but it was provided at the students’ reading level. A 3rd grader already reading at 5th grade level had a story to read at the 5th grade level. At the end of 3rd grade, they could be reading at 6th grade level. This approach can be used for math and other subjects. We need to provide every child an appropriate education based on their current academic level, not their classroom grade. That is success for all!

Should students in school be wearing masks?

Yes, since it is presently recommended by CDC. We should follow sound medical advice to protect staff and students.

Do you think children were left behind this school year? How can they get back to grade level?

Yes, the virtual learning programs were too limited in time and structure. I think teachers did the best they could but it was not equal to being in the classroom. One option to help catch up is to provide summer school. In 2010 a study by ASD concluded that elementary students advanced 19% when attending summer school.

How do you plan to address the COVID-19 pandemic in schools?

No one knows for certain what will happen next. At this time all schools should be fully opened in the Fall after the new School Board is sworn in because of the availability of vaccines. However, if changes occur that prevent opening schools in a safe manner, ASD should be prepared to do better than the last twelve months. We need to start by examining what we could have done better and explore options for the future.

What’s the largest non-pandemic issue facing the district and what do you intend to do about it?

[Declining] academic scores. I want to Board to reestablish its audit committee and immediately conduct a thorough [academic] audit. I know that advances in curriculum will improve academic performance. In 2019 ASD academic scores dropped, and ASD ranking in growth from 4th to 8th grade has declined. We need to set high goals and take steps necessary to achieve those goals.

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