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Anchorage School District proposes scaling back gifted program to address budget shortfall

was written by Mayowa Aina, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage , 2020-02-06 05:32:23

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A 5th grade student with his back to the audience sits at a desk in front of a panel of adults
Carter Vigil, 10, of Bowman Elementary School in Anchorage gives public testimony at the school board meeting February 4, 2020. He is part of IGNITE, an enrichment program that will undergo a “redesign” as part of the district’s operating budget proposal. (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public)

The Anchorage School District is proposing eliminating the IGNITE program in its current form to help make up for a $20 million budget shortfall for the next school year.

The District presented the plan at the school board meeting Tuesday night for a first read.

IGNITE is an “enrichment based program for gifted learners” according to the Anchorage School District website. And the District calls the change to the program a “redesign.” Currently, students in the IGNITE program are pulled out of their regular classes for specialized sessions. Under the new budget proposal, students would no longer be pulled out of class and IGNITE sessions would be incorporated into the ‘what I need’ (WIN) time that all students receive.

The budget also proposes one 60 minute late start or early release day per week across the entire district.

At the meeting, Superintendent Deena Bishop said it was a difficult choice but better than increasing class sizes.

“In thinking about operating the district with the goals for which the board has asked for student learning, I’m not sure what else to redesign or to eliminate,” she said. “I don’t have any more options.”

Bishop noted the budget proposes spending more money in some areas, including on special education teachers. The budget, posted online, shows how each school will be impacted by the cuts.

Several administrators, parents, and students testified at the meeting advocating for staff and programs. Carter Vigil, a 5th grader from Bowman Elementary, advocated for the IGNITE program.

Carter Vigil testifies at the Anchorage School District School Board Meeting February 4, 2020. (Video: Anchorage School District Youtube Page)

“I’ve been in IGNITE since 2nd grade, and I would like to see the program stay in schools because I really enjoy it,” he said after reciting over a dozen elements of the periodic table from memory. “My friends and I get to learn about engineering, chemistry, and we get to be surgeons and biologists. Just on Monday we dissected frogs.”

School board president Starr Marsett said she predicts balancing the budget will only get more difficult in the future. She plans to go to Juneau in the coming weeks to talk with legislators about school funding.

“Since 2013 we have had flat funding” she said.”I’m going to be talking [with legislators] about everything we’ve lost in this school district.”

The school board will consider amendments to the proposed budget and take more public testimony at their next meeting on Tuesday, February 18.

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A Trip To Alaska

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Denali National Park and Preserve. Originally developed to preserve wildlife, the vistas are nonetheless amazing. Denali has 160 miles of the Alaska Range and commanding this skyline is North America’s greatest peak; 20,320 foot Mount McKinley simply one of the most great sights in Alaska, if not the world. Yet it’s not just the mountain which makes Denali National Park a unique place. The park is also where you can 37 species of mammals, including lynx, marmots and Dall sheep, to foxes and snowshoe hares, and one hundred thirty different bird species may be noticed here, which include the striking golden eagle. Most visitors, however, want to see 4 animals particularly: moose, caribou, wolf and everyone’s popular: the grizzly, bear. Denali, unlike most wilderness areas in the country, it’s not necessary to be a backpacker to see this wildlife, they can be seen right next to the famous Denali Park road. Not surprisingly then, visitors arrive here in droves; the park is a popular destination, drawing 432,000 visitors each year. Over the years the National Park Service (NPS) has developed exceptional visitor-management strategies, such as shutting down its only road to most vehicles. As a result Denali National Park is still the fantastic wilderness it was two decades ago. The entrance has evolved, however the park itself has not, and any brown bear meandering on the tundra ridge still provide the same quiet excitement as when the park very first opened in 1917. Though generations of Athabascans had wandered through what is now the park, the first permanent settlement was started in 1905, when a gold miners’ rush established the town of Kantishna. A year later, naturalist and hunter Charles Sheldon was stunned by the beauty of the land and mortified at the reckless abandon of the miners and big-game hunters. Sheldon came back in 1907 and explored the area along with guide Harry Karstens in an effort to setup boundaries for a proposed national park. Sheldon was successful and the area was established as Mount McKinley National Park in 1917 with Karstens serving as the park’s first superintendent. As a result of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the park was enlarged to over 6 million acres and re-named Denali National Park and Preserve. Denali now comprises an area slightly bigger than the state of Massachusetts and is generally ranked as one of Alaska’s top visitors attractions.

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A Visit To Denali National Park in Alaska, the Last Frontier