Teachers, parents gather for education forum at Bartlett High School

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Dozens of parents, teachers, students and members of the education community gathered at Bartlett High School on Saturday to voice their opinions on how a new federal education law should be implemented in the Anchorage School District.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, was signed into law under the Obama administration as a replacement for its predecessor No Child Left Behind. The new federal legislation aims to give states more control over certain aspects of their public school systems, including standards and assessments, accountability systems, and school improvement.

ESSA also requires state education officials to shape those policies based on input from community stakeholders, which was the main goal of Saturday’s forum, according to Anchorage Education Association President Brinna Wojtalewicz.

"What we wanted to do is pull together some of the big stakeholders involved in education in Anchorage and try to get a big showing for what students really deserve in Anchorage specifically,” Wojtalewicz told Channel 2 in a phone interview Friday.

At the forum, attendees broke off into smaller discussion groups which were facilitated by high school students from around Anchorage. Some attendees were concerned with finding new methods of testing and assessing students. Others were concerned that many students aren’t getting the support they need.

“Some of the themes that came up were the issues of equity. Is every student getting what they need?” said Deena Mitchell after her group’s discussion. “Because we have some students with very great need who don’t have a lot of support from home. And of course we have students who have families that are incredibly supportive.”

The event ended with a panel discussion with various state and local education officials. ASD Superintendent Deena Bishop, who was one of the panelists, said that forums like these play an important role in determining what the education system in Anchorage will look like in the future.

“For us as the largest city in the state with many students and a highly diverse population, we certainly want to be able to have these discussions and let our lawmakers in Juneau know the type of education that our community expects when they attend public schools in the State of Alaska,” Bishop said.

With ESSA set to take full effect next school year, it’s uncertain at this point how the new presidency will affect the future of public schooling in Alaska and the nation as a whole. US Senator Dan Sullivan on Wednesday said President Trump's education secretary nominee Betsy Devos spoke with him about her plans for ESSA during a recent meeting.

“She committed to implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act as Congress intended it, without implementing regulations that place the power into the hands of the Department of Education, and supports accountability for all schools as determined by the states,” Sullivan wrote in a press release.

Senator Lisa Murkowski meanwhile announced that she will not be supporting Devos at her confirmation hearing on Monday, saying that Devos doesn't have enough experience with the public school system.

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