Letter from the Superintendent
June 12, 2020
Dear ASD Families and Staff,
As we are near the mid-point of June, I wanted to reach out to share a few updates and thoughts on your school district, THE Anchorage School District (ASD)! I hope you are well into the summer enjoying the outdoors, a true pleasure after being in hunker-down mode for so long. Nevertheless, the days are bitter-sweet. Despite the beauty of the summer in Alaska, we cannot escape the fact that so much unrest continues in our world. I am specifically speaking to the killing of George Floyd and the greater meaning of being black in America. As a person on this earth, I must see race. Otherwise I will be incapable of listening, learning, and leading.
Race is a social construct we are taught from birth. It matters to all of us. Race influences how we live, who our friends are, the quality of our health, the schools we attend, the careers we have, and all too often, how much money we make. The white experience I was given at my birth is not a universal experience. Therefore, I must see race as I lead in ASD.
It has been evident for some time that our outcomes are not equitable for our black and brown students. Collectively they do not achieve what our white students achieve. The learning data in ASD has me looking in the mirror at how ASD is systemically educating students, rather than looking out the window at our students. We must do better for all kids. The School Board, in setting its new goals, has also taken a deliberate stance to address the inequities within our schools, ranging from learning to discipline.
Recently, I sat with Chief Doll from the Anchorage Police Department to discuss our School Resource Officer (SRO) program. While being superintendent in ASD, I have never had any complaints about SROs being in our schools. Our program focuses on safety, mentoring, teaching, and offering students support, not “policing” our school hallways. Anchorage SROs are truly that, a resource. They do not do locker checks or engage in school discipline; our principals do that work as needed. SROs are necessary for the simple fact that our schools are part of the greater community. And, as with any community, there are times when police are needed.
SROs develop a professional but human connection with both the students and staff, connections which are critical to building a foundation of mutual trust. Our students and staff will be far more likely to reach out for help from a familiar, trusted face. I would much rather have an SRO respond to a call than an officer on patrol who may be less familiar with the school programs and protocol.
While a national trend is emerging, calling for the removal of police officers from schools, my choice is to focus back on education, back on our classrooms. While our attention to students is paramount to their success, we must be willing to look critically at ourselves and our practices if we are to meet all of our kids’ needs. To this end, Chief Doll and I have committed to reinvigorating the Anchorage Community Police Relations Task Force, chartered in 1981, by adding student voice to the committee. ASD’s Office of Equity and the Secondary Education Department will work with our high schools to engage ASD students in the work. I look for good things to come in our schools and our community through this collective endeavor!
In closing, I want to share that we continue to plan for next year, utilizing the state guidance for schools to reopen in the fall. The School Board will deliberate on the proposals in July during special meetings. Information on ASD’s school start can be found here. Thank you once again for your support of the students, educators, and staff of ASD.
As I think about our many challenges including COVID-19, the economic crisis, local and national racial injustices, and educating students safely in schools, I feel as though I am living Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” as he wrote “And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.” Please know your ASD team is working hard for our community to provide high-quality education that underscores equity so that all students can experience the abundance a public education has to offer.
Deena M. Bishop Ed.D.
For more information about how to talk to children about racism and other difficult topics, please consider the linked articles below.
Talking about Race, Heather Greenwood Davis, National Geographic, June 1, 2020
How to Talk to Kids about Race and Racism, Parent Toolkit,
Talking to Kids about Tragedy and Other News Events, Healthy Children Organization/The American Academy of Pediatrics