ANCHORAGE -

With fewer people and resources available due to recent budget cutbacks, Anchorage School District superintendent Ed Graff says the new school year will be a challenge -- but he's still pushing his staff to accomplish even more.

Ed Graff sums up the direction he wants to take with two words: student engagement. They indicate what he calls a focus on doing whatever it takes to teach kids to be successful inside and outside their school.

When it comes to looking out for the best interest of the Anchorage School District's almost 48,000 students, Graff vows he'll never miss a beat on behalf of the district's parents.

"I want what's best for their child," Graff said. "They are going to be the No. 1 advocate for their child; I will be No. 2."

Maintaining an emphasis on student success means educators have to think outside the box, Graff says. Over the spring and summer, he's pushed staff to come together to revise and expand curriculum to effectively teach students on all levels.   
 
"Providing that high-quality individualized, differentiated learning for kids, to keep that enthusiasm going and keep that engagement moving forward," Graff said.

Keeping that momentum coming, however, could prove challenging. After balancing a budget containing $23 million in cuts for this school year, ASD's leadership faces a projected $21 million gap for the 2015-2016 school year.

"The loss of valuable people and resources do make it more challenging for us," Graff said.

Despite having less staff to help, Graff says he's imploring parents and the community to share in the responsibility of supporting ASD students. That's why he has added four new preschools to the district, in hopes of providing engaging experiences and reaching students when they're young.

"You look at the research, and early literacy is the key and critical foundation for students," Graff said. "The students who get our preschool opportunities in our Title I schools are performing better than their counters (at) schools who do not have that opportunity."

The new preschools will be at Lake Otis, Chester Valley, Mountain View, and Tudor elementary schools. Graff says money to pay for them came out of city and state funds.
     
While ASD leaders have started to discuss how to approach next year's projected budget gap, Graff says the focus is getting students excited to learn.