Thursday marks the first day of the 2014-2015 school year in the Mat-Su Borough School District -- one which Superintendent Dr. Deena Paramo says will be all about putting value and variety into the borough's classrooms.

When it comes to her work, there's no doubting Paramo's passion.

"I do have I think the best job ever; it's fun, it's challenging," Paramo said.

Paramo, now in her fourth year as MSBSD's superintendent, is taking that challenge head-on by offering the 17,800 students choice after choice to find out what learning environment best fits their needs.

"Our thing is every kid learns a year for a year, no matter where you are," Paramo said. "'Everybody learns' is kind of our focus -- whether you are at the top, in the middle, you're going to learn."

With the district providing students with 45 different sites that includes comprehensive, charter, alternative and career and technical schools, Paramo says Alaska can't afford to not have prepared graduates in the future.

"It's the economy: education is going to influence our economy," Paramo said. "And so, if we look at Mat-Su and we look at employers and kids that we want to have livable wage jobs when they leave us or go to college or the military, education is a big piece of that."

So far, MSBSD's finances have remained in the black, with leaders able to avoid budget shortfalls that have hit other Alaska school districts. Paramo says that's because staff look outside the box to give students access to all programs.

"We don't have every program at every school because that's unaffordable, so what we've started to do is work smarter -- and we have six high schools and we only have welding programs at three of them, but what we'll do is transport the kid from one school to another," Paramo said. "There's a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that says, 'You do the best you can with what you have where you are,' and we kind of have that attitude that we are going to figure it out -- and we are going to offer the best program, and we are not going to use a lack of funding to hold us back."

Paramo's mantra lines up with the district's mission to create successful students as soon as they start school.

"We know that when you practice something, you get better at it, but a lot of those proficiencies happen when kids are young," Paramo said. "And so we want to get really good by third grade; our kids can multiply and read well so there is never a glass ceiling on them and they can take off."

While Paramo touts the district's improvement of graduation rates to almost 80 percent, she says it can do better. That's why it offers options like online classes and a middle college to get students to stay in school.
With the highest student-teacher ratio among Alaska's large school districts, Paramo says she's lucky to have staff who are dedicated in helping children succeed.