Unpacking Priorities: A Community Conversation Recap

The pandemic has presented many financial challenges across Alaskan school districts. One such challenge will be a boon in the coming years.

On March 31, the Region 16 Comprehensive Center hosted Unpacking Priorities, a community forum for Alaska education officials. The idea for the conference was to bring them together to share thoughts and gather more information on the newly allotted federal funds and help support schools in thinking about how those funds could be spent to make the most impact.

All of the funds will be used to aid children across Alaska in their academic journey.

“We want to help you through this process of how to spend those pennies for kids,” said AK DEED Commissioner Dr. Michael Johnson. “I keep using the word penny because we don’t need to think only about big amounts. Every penny counts.”

Attendees were able to share their thoughts on the past year, including their schools and students’ challenges, what went well, and what could be improved. That led to some discussion on where districts could allocate funds.

“Whether it’s remote or in-person, it’s still about people,” said Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter. “There were cracks in the system, and those cracks have turned into crevices. (The pandemic) brought that forward in a way that it’ll never go back in the box, and I think that’s a good thing.”

The funding comes from the federal stimulus packages that were passed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Presenters explained what each act provides in detail to attendees and the parameters for using said funds.

Acts mentioned included the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) and, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Many school districts nationwide are already putting these funds to use. Discussions included examples to give attendees one what could be effective in their districts going forward.

“Teachers want to make sure that the students that need help the most get it,” NEA-Alaska President Tom Klaameyer said. “We have an incredible with this money opportunity to be able to provide not only the academic support. This is also an equity issue. We have an opportunity to right the ship.”

Region 16 Comprehensive Center has committed itself to provide opportunities like this one to engage with school leaders. This conversation will be continued with a series of events throughout the summer.

For those wanting more information from this forum, recordings and notes can be found here.

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