Kai Binkley Sims is a candidate for School Board Seat A in the 2019 Municipal Elections. If elected, she will serve a three-year term for the School Board for the Municipality of Anchorage.

KTVA asked Binkley Sims, as well as those running against her, to answer a few questions about her stance on key issues in the community as part of our election coverage this year. Each candidate was given an equal amount of time to respond to these questions and informed of the set publishing date.

Here are Binkley Sims' answers to those questions.

Question 1 – Would you support school board candidates running for specific districts rather than the current citywide approach? Please explain your answer.

Yes, I definitely would. Candidates could focus on smaller geographical areas and be able to personally connect with more people. Reaching residents from Eklutna to Girdwood is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. With open school board seats, it is very possible that a whole geographical area would be underrepresented on the school board. I have enjoyed engaging with voters across the Municipality, but the miles that need to be covered in a limited period of time ultimately hurts constituents.

Question 2 – Gov. Dunleavy unveiled $1.6B in budget cuts in February. As lawmakers make their way through the budget process, what will you do to address budget challenges?

I will advocate with the legislators that I know personally for the Base Student Allocation (BSA) to return to the same level as our current school year. I will make sure to be clear about what the ASD needs in order to fulfill our state’s constitutional obligation to provide quality education to all. Student safety and the need to attract and retain high quality teachers are two of the most important needs in the ASD, and must be supported financially.

Question 3 – Along those lines, there are concerns classroom sizes are growing and will grow even more due to Gov. Dunleavy’s budget cuts. What is your plan to address that?

That absolutely cannot happen. Once the legislature determines the appropriate level of funding for K-12 education, we must make sure we are spending our tax dollars responsibility, without affecting the quality of education we provide. Increasing class sizes will affect morale in our schools, which will have a negative affect on our students’ performance and wellbeing, as well as our, teachers and families. Larger class sizes will also make it more difficult for teachers to recognize and intervene when students fall behind, which will further deteriorate performance.

Question 4 – ASD officials have said 87 percent of the budget covers personnel, more than 60 percent of whom are teachers, nurses, librarians and counselors. Gov. Dunleavy’s cuts represent a loss of 1,000 – 1,800 jobs, according to the district's chief financial officer Jim Anderson. How will you ensure schools are staffed appropriately?

I am committed to keeping as much funding as possible in classrooms. As a parent with three kids in three different schools in our district, I am in schools every day, so I understand the challenges our teachers have day to day. Cutting classroom teachers and the essential support staff is not the answer to our budget and performance challenges.

Question 5 – Elementary school teachers have expressed frustration about mandated curriculum and have requested more freedom when it comes to teaching material. How will you support teachers in the classroom while balancing the educational needs of students?

Teachers and parents know their students best! I fully support our teachers’ ability to read the needs of their students and manage those needs, whether it’s enrichment or intervention. Teachers need the creative freedom to instruct curriculum so that students are able to retain the information and put that knowledge to use. I would like to see more time in elementary for science, social studies, and free time.

Question 6 – Along those lines, the school community has expressed a desire for more recess time. What is your stance on the benefits of giving more recess?

The benefits of getting outside are huge for kids (and adults)! I completely agree that our kids should have more time to be outside and play. It is instrumental in our students’ success in the classroom. I also understand the need for students to have enough time to each their lunch, especially for those who end up standing in line for a majority of their allotted lunch time. I think the timing for lunch and recess should be handled by the principal within each school. They should be able to manage the needs of their students, with the logistics of recess/lunch/passing time within their building.

Question 7 – Test scores in the district run the gamut from highly proficient to not proficient. How do we help underperforming schools?

Again I would advocate for teachers managing their own classrooms. They know their students best and can make assessments based on hundreds of hours of interaction, rather than a few days in front of a computer taking a standardized test. As an engineer, I am trained to make data driven decisions. Tests can give us good data, but we need to make sure we are using the correct and most efficient tools to measure our children’s success.
It is no secret that we still have low graduation rates and an unacceptable number of kids graduating without the skills they need to be productive members of society. The programs we have been using in the past aren’t giving us acceptable results. I worry that our focus on increasing the graduation rate has led to a less rigorous graduation criteria. It is time to get back to the basics and focus on the quality of our education.