Jay McDonald: Anchorage School District marred by culture of secrecy

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By JAY MCDONALD

There is a controversy stirring around Robert Service High School, but parents eager to make sense of what their children are telling them have been left with more questions than answers by the slow and tight-lipped Anchorage School District. 

While many residents are shocked by this seemingly out-of-the-blue event involving allegations of drug use and sexual impropriety among senior staff, the warning signs were there. Accounts of the goings on at Service paint a picture that raises questions about how ASD is running operations. Internal staff surveys point to deeper systemic problems.

In the School Climate and Connectedness Survey for 2022, only 19% of employee respondents at Service High School believed “the principal and other leaders in the school make good decisions.” Teachers who took the survey clearly rang the alarm bell on Service’s leadership. 

The nearest comparable school was Dimond High with 28% of teachers similarly concerned. Nearly two-thirds of the same respondents at Service High did not believe “decisions are made based on what is best for students” and a whopping 72% did not believe “the principal looks out for the personal welfare of school or staff members.”

The survey results show that there is little hope from Service High teachers that anyone above the principal will step in to help prevent future misconduct.

These surveys are conducted for a reason. Will ASD use the information it has to investigate and be proactive? Or will administrators wait until another outrageous incident occurs and move in quickly for damage control? Based on the experience that one teacher has relayed to me, I believe the latter is the most likely outcome.

Such one-sided results in the survey are indicators of a hostile and dysfunctional workplace,  in which both teachers and students suffer. 

How can we hope to pull Alaska out of our abysmal ranking in education in this environment? We need to ask ourselves what kind of person we require to lead our teachers and set the example for our children. 

Michelle Obama said, “People that are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together.” Robert Service High School’s principal was neither lifting people up nor bringing them together. 

What happened at Service is a small part of the story. This year alone, several schools in the district have had one or more teachers walk away from their post mid-year because they could no longer take the environment created by administrators. Being “in it for the children” was no longer enough reason to keep taking the abuse, according to one teacher I spoke with, who asked for anonymity. She described a “keep quiet and keep your head down” mentality.

Teachers are afraid to ask questions or speak out for fear of retaliation as well as complete lack of support at the district level. They pay union dues hoping for support because they have no idea how to stand up for themselves in situations involving sexual or other harassment, discrimination, mental abuse, and outright dishonesty.  Unfortunately, in many of these situations, it seems the union sides with senior leadership against lower-level teachers by default, according to my source.

ASD teachers know that more than one principal has been moved across the district to serve at another school when facing misconduct allegations instead of being held accountable, far more often than you can find in a Google search.  

A May 2019 article published in the Anchorage Daily News about the removal of the school district’s chief of Human Resources tells you all you need to know about how ASD feels about releasing such information. 

“In a statement Monday, the school district said it doesn’t comment on personnel matters or ongoing investigations,” the story said. Innocent until proven guilty is the American way, but so is the sixth amendment right to a speedy trial, and this is a right owed to the public as well as to the accused. As the four-year anniversary of that statement bears down on us, few details have been released to the public. 

Teachers, parents and students deserve due process and transparency on “personnel issues” regardless of how uncomfortable it may be.  The culture of secrecy and hiding information from public view has crept into every corner of ASD and it will be no shock if we hear nothing more of what comes next for the Service High School principal.

I urge you to demand answers, transparency, and accountability in these dealings. These injustices create a toxic work environment that alienates our best and brightest teachers. When our children’s safety and education is at stake, parents cannot afford to be left in the dark.

Jay McDonald is an Anchorage parent and US Army veteran. This is the first in a series he is writing with the help of Anchorage School District teachers who are afraid to speak publicly.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Jay for all your hard work. We appreciate your efforts as my grandchildrens education and safety at school is the only crutch I have left holding me up. I pray for your safety and success in exposing this travesty/attack on our children until the voters wake up and terminate the WOKE school board and the incompetent Superintendent. There are so many families who dont have the resources or the means to pay for private schooling. I feel very sorry for them as they are so busy working just to provide for their basic needs they wont even see it coming. Their children will be graduating without the ability to read write and do basic math. I have already experienced their incapabilities to even read a tape measure with a high school diploma in hand. That is pathetic!

  2. Thank you Jay, Couldn’t have said it better. There are great teachers who do not go along with the majority .
    There is so much corruption that is protected by those in charge, in the name of not commenting of the issue. Parents need to knock on Governor Dunleavey’s door and tell him to appropriate the money to the parents to find schools that will educated their children not indoctrinate them. Keep up this good work Jay, you do make a difference.

  3. There is nothing secret anymore about the profound dysfunction of Anchorage public education.

    Denial and excuses, yes. Secret, no.

    Every time voters haven’t bother to vote, attend school functions, and not bother to get involved they approved this behavior.

    In every way possible, Anchorage and Alaska has the government it deserves.

  4. If the education industrial complex is to be fixed, it will have to be by by the efforts of dedicated teachers. Probably a lot more than they thought they signed up for. We need to keep the mentally and morally ill away from our children. And social politics have no place in school. Ever.

  5. Thanks for speaking up for the teachers. Another key thing is that ASD needs to have an audit done by an independent auditor. Where is their money going? This is a question I have as a taxpayer.

  6. They are public employees and we as their employers should have all information at our fingers when ever we want to. There should be no secrets or sweeping under the rug of school district policy’s and personal issues tied to our children.

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