- Anchorage School District
- From the desk of the Superintendent
Messages from the Superintendent
May 25: Message from the Superintendent
Dear ASD Staff and Families,
I am heartbroken over the tragedy that occurred in Uvalde, Texas yesterday. I am familiar with this small town, having spent many summers at Garner State Park in nearby Concan. Anchorage School District sends our most sincere thoughts and prayers to the families of Robb Elementary School as they attempt to cope with the unfathomable loss of children, family members, loved ones, and community members.
As details unfold in the news and images of the impacted families flood the media feeds, my mind shifts to the responsibility as a district leader to reflect and take account of our preparedness for any harm that could come to our school communities.
Please know ASD’s top priority is maintaining and sustaining a safe learning environment. Safety measures and protocols currently in place in our schools continue to adapt and improve as better security technology becomes available and new information about school safety unfolds. Our work includes both the capital improvement aspects of safety as well as our actions and behaviors as the adults in charge when children are with us.
The ASD Operations Department continues to add secure vestibules with controlled access to all elementary schools. This work began four years ago when our team identified the need. We will continue the redesign and construction of our schools’ entry doors until all elementary schools are equipped with this added safety measure. Thank you for continuing to support safety items in ASD school bonds.
Additionally, our security program includes training administrators and security staff in partnership with APD School Resource Officers (SRO). Our principals and teachers are amazing at teaching and preparing their students to be knowledgeable and good decision makers when they are faced with danger, utilizing the ALICE program.
Please know that schools have surveillance systems, intrusion alarm systems, and are transitioning to keyless access control systems as well. Our employees wear identification badges and visitors are required to be signed in and out and wear a temporary identification badge.
ASD investigates all threats of harm in school and on social media. We review each one critically. Please talk to your students about the importance of taking threats seriously and bringing them to your attention as well as to the attention of a trusted adult in school.
Finally, I encourage you to talk to your children about how they are feeling. Families and school personnel play a critical role in reestablishing a sense of normalcy and security for children after an act of violence occurs. ASD is committed to our students’ and staff’s well-being. The Health Services Department has expanded to include community partnerships and support for mental health as well. Focusing support on our students and staff is key to success. You can review these key reminders to learn more.
Please hug your kids a little tighter today and feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have.
Dr. Deena Bishop
May 13: Message from the Superintendent
I have enjoyed an amazing career, spanning over three decades in Alaska, doing what I do because of my passion and belief that education matters. With an abundance of gratitude, I close out this chapter of my life as a teacher, administrator, and giant fan of young people in Alaska. Education matters for our freedom, our dignity, and our fulfillment in life.
I will admit that writing this last message has been difficult for me. As superintendent, I have been entrusted to use other people’s dollars to take care of other people’s babies. As a logical thinker, I have replayed the actions and decisions made over time in my mind, always wondering what more I could have done to serve the students and employees of ASD, especially during the pandemic. My brain knows that the decision-making occurred with the best information at the time, but my heart still hurts for the losses our students faced during the difficult times of the past two years.
Even before the pandemic, as an experienced leader, I understood and worked through challenges such as closing two elementary schools in Anchorage when enrollment declined, subsequently downsizing our workforce. The earthquake created its own obstacles, and two schools were offline until repairs and renovations with enhanced safety measures were complete. Additionally, much work has been accomplished by updating business processes, saving millions of dollars, and establishing efficiencies. Innovative programs have been opened; Alaska Middle College School, ASD Virtual School, and French Immersion offer opportunities and choices for families. A multitude of other decisions have been made to meet District goals and move ASD in the right direction.
I have been inspired by the speeches at graduations this week. Graduation is a milestone as students transition to their next chapter in life. Graduation rigor as well as graduation rates have increased to their highest levels over the past five years. This is a testament to the educators that have gifted knowledge and learning to the new generations. ASD graduates spoke of resiliency, gratitude, and positive futures. We can be proud of the growth and wisdom of the graduates of 2022. These students will lead us one day.
Those who know me well, know my laser focus on literacy over the last ten years. I understand, even as a math teacher, that acquiring reading skills is truly the basis in “Educating all Students for Success in Life.” Many agree that reading is the mother of content acquisition. It is essential in any environment. ASD is set for success as we move forward utilizing scientific evidenced-based practices to teach kids to read. If we choose to employ explicit, systematic instruction in phonological awareness (sounds), phonics, fluency (ability to read accurately and at the appropriate rate), vocabulary, and comprehension, the keys to learning any language, our student learning will improve. It is important as Alaska is in danger for all that we hold dear if our children do not learn to read at higher levels.
As I end my career in public education, I want to share my gratitude to my family. Being a spouse and children of a ‘public’ person is never easy. It was a role my family didn’t sign up for yet met with open arms. At times it has been impacted with the advent of social media, where criticism toward me would spill over into their lives. I will be forever thankful for their sacrifices and support during the journey of my educational leadership.
In all of this, I realize nothing was accomplished in isolation. ASD is a team and we have done great things together. Thank you for allowing me to lead. I am humbly grateful. As we look to the future I am confident Anchorage School District’s outcomes for students will be a complete success so long as we keep our hearts and minds focused on what is best for students.
Dr. Deena Bishop
Apr 1: Message from the Superintendent
I’m sending my April 1st update a few days early due to dangerous behavior taking place against our community. Within the last week, the Anchorage School District experienced two incidents involving gel-ball blasters on or near school grounds. The District believes these events are linked to the recent TikTok Orbeez Challenge, which encourages people to shoot soft-gel, Orbeez balls at citizens with a gel-ball blaster or an airsoft gun. You can read more about the Orbeez Challenge here).
Simply stated, this is extremely dangerous behavior to the public and to the perpetrators, and the District seeks parent and community involvement to put an end to it. Thankfully, the District and Anchorage Police Department (APD) are not aware of reports of physical injury, but several students and bystanders stated to police and local media that they were shot at and struck by gel-ball pellets. In each event, APD responded immediately upon notification to address and reduce the threat to public safety. The individuals engaged in this activity were at significant risk as the responding officers could have perceived a lethal threat.
Safety remains a top priority and the District continues to work with our School Resource Officers (SROs) as the police investigation continues. It’s incumbent for parents to ensure their students do not bring any weapon – real, non-lethal or fake – to school grounds or on buses. APD plans to have an increased police presence at and around our schools during this time until this matter is resolved. No arrests have been made. If you have any information that would be helpful in the investigation, please call the Anchorage Police Department at 311.
Dr. Deena Bishop
March 1: Message from the Superintendent
Dear ASD Families and Staff,
As we start a new month, the Anchorage School District has begun a new chapter in our mitigation efforts for COVID-19.
However, before I begin, I want to say a few words about the war unfolding in Ukraine. The Anchorage School District has students, staff, family, and friends from all over the world, including Ukraine and Russia. We are deeply impacted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Our hearts are with those directly harmed, and we continue to offer them our support. My prayers and hopes for a peaceful end match those of people around the world.
Yesterday, the District began allowing the choice to wear a mask in our facilities and on our buses. This new phase leans heavily on respecting each other’s decisions. Respect of one another is important as we stay focused on ASD’s mission of “educating all students for success in life.”
Our school travel groups are once again heading out for domestic travel this spring. We are encouraged by these changes as our students and staff begin to experience a more regular end to this school year.
As we approach the end of the year, I want to draw your attention to the recently released Alaska Department of Education & Early Development (DEED) Report Cards to the Public for each school district and school in Alaska for school year 2020-2021. These report cards to the public contain data and information about academics, the school environment, quality of teachers, and more. They are just one more way for families to stay engaged with their school.
Spring break starts at the end of the week. Please enjoy the time with family and friends. Graduation and the end of the school year are right around the corner. I am excited to announce that ASD will be utilizing the Alaska Airlines Center for our large school graduation ceremonies this year. Have a terrific rest of your week and super Iditarod start weekend!
Dr. Deena Bishop
February 18: Message from the Superintendent
Dear ASD Families and Staff,
Absent unforeseen conditions, I propose to transition the Anchorage School District (ASD) to parent-informed, optional mask wearing for students and optional mask wear for adults in our schools and facilities. This districtwide change will be implemented on Monday, February 28th. It’s time to do this for our students.
As a career educator, I understand how critical it is to focus the District’s energy on student learning. I believe that continued mandatory mask wearing is counter-productive and negatively impacts our students’ education, intellectual development, and emotional well-being. COVID-19 cases across the State of Alaska (SOA), Municipality of Anchorage (MOA), and ASD are dropping rapidly. Overall knowledge of COVID-19 and the availability of effective vaccines and treatments largely enable a return to normalcy in the classroom.
The last two years have been challenging for everyone and the District strives to be responsive to staff and student needs. I plan to sustain all other mitigation measures and procedures that allowed us to re-open schools and keep them open during the Omicron outbreak. The District is prepared to offer PCR tests to symptomatic staff and students through the end of the school year. Our COVID-19 page includes this year’s timeline and outlines our step-down approach.
I want to close by thanking everyone for your grace and continued support of education. By allowing informed mask choice, ASD staff, parents, and students will be able to better focus on learning. Children have carried an unprecedented burden during the pandemic, and it is time to refocus on their outcomes and our mission of educating all students for success in life.
Deena Bishop, Ed.D.
January 13: Message from the Superintendent
Good afternoon, ASD Families.
I hope this bi-monthly update finds you well. I start by thanking our ASD staff at all levels for continuing education for our young people. I see education as essential in our society. School is important for children, and family/community partnership in your schools is important as well. We need your support---read with your children, ask them questions, review their homework, and surround them with as much love as possible.
Many staff at the district administration offices have been substituting in schools when needed, myself included. From my first-hand knowledge, I continue to share that our employees are doing amazing things every day. A note that a teacher sent me exemplifies this the most. It was from her first-grade student who wrote, “Dear mom, dad, and Hannah, I hope you know I love you and that I hope you do too. I encourage you to do hard things, and to do smart and creative things.”
Teachers and other school personnel are doing hard, smart, and creative things right now to keep our schools open for students. The dedication that has been given by ASD employees during this time of staff shortages and overall COVID-stress in our community is exceptional. When you have a chance, thank your child’s school team for all they do!
Changing topics to our COVID-19 mitigation plan, at this time, the mask requirement for all ASD buildings will extend. The total new cases per 100,000 persons in the past seven days was 2,210 as of January 12. For context, this number was hovering close to 100 when my decision was initially made last month to provide for parent directed mask use.
As mentioned in my previous update, ASD will follow new CDC guidelines and reduce the length of time to stay home from 10 days to five days for those testing positive for COVID-19. Schools have received questions on this, so I’d like to clarify:
- If a student or employee tests positive, they must stay home five days after their first symptom or positive test, whichever is earlier.
- After five days, the student or employee may return to school or work when they have not had a fever in 24 hours without fever-reducing medicine and as long as other symptoms are improving.
Please reference the ASD At Home COVID-19 Health Screening for Parents and Guardians document for a complete guide on what to do if your child is sick or is experiencing symptoms and guidelines for when students are permitted to return to school.
Additionally, similar to our State movement away from tracking negative tests, shifts will be made in the administrative tasks for school nurses. ASD is planning to include new dashboard detail that will allow parents to see COVID-19 cases in grade level bands in our schools, reducing the paper notices that go home. This new practice provides real-time access for you and allows our nurses to focus on the health of students and staff in school.
Another possibility in the coming days may be a return to temporarily suspended bus routes. As a courtesy to families, the Transportation Department has prepared a cohort of transportation routes that could transition into a three-week suspension period should COVID-19 staffing shortages impact transportation. This is contingency planning--please know the Administration aspires to continue normal service. To view the cohorts and to monitor COVID-19 transportation updates, click here.
Again, my priority is keeping our schools open and safe with in-person learning and not to revert back to virtual learning. While I am an advocate of e-learning as a choice, it does not meet all students’ learning and well-being. Please enjoy the extended weekend as we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In his words, as we face the hard work in front of us, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
Deena Bishop, Ed.D.
January 6: Message from the Superintendent
Dear ASD Families,
Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its COVID-19 isolation and quarantine recommendations for K-12 schools. For ASD, the amount of time to stay home if you test positive for COVID-19 has been reduced from 10 days to 5 days. For more information about the changes for students, click here to read the updated home screening guidelines. There are no additional changes to our mitigation plan at this time.
If you would like to read more about the new CDC guidelines, click here.
I hope you had a great week and have a great weekend!
Deena Bishop, Ed.D.