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University of Alaska Regents, Anchorage School Board find common ground

The University of Alaska Board of Regents and the Anchorage School Board met together today in a rare session that highlighted the importance of collaboration between the two for the benefit of students, the workforce and broader Alaska community.

One-third of entering freshmen at the University of Alaska come from the Anchorage School District, and the Anchorage School District hires many graduates of UA teacher education programs. Those were just a couple common points between the Anchorage School District and university system that were discussed during a wide-ranging session that touched on everything from the high school qualifying exam to the Alaska Performance Scholarship.

The two groups agree better student tracking is crucial. Diane Barrans, executive director of the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education and meeting moderator, noted that the commission, UA and the state departments of Labor and Education are working together on a grant application for a longitudinal database that will track Alaska students from pre-school through high school and on through college. The idea behind a seamless database is comprehensive information, which could ultimately lead to improved public policy.

All agreed improved communication to parents and students is needed to properly characterize the high school qualifying exam as a basic skills test--not an indicator of how prepared a student is for either additional education or the work place.

“I would describe this as a good start. There are a lot of things we can do together for the benefit of Alaska’s youth,” said Fuller Cowell, outgoing chair of the UA Board of Regents.

Carol Comeau, superintendent of the Anchorage School District, said the district values its connection with the university. “If we can create a more formal collaboration, it will benefit our kids in the state.”

UA President Pat Gamble said synergy between the two boards offers tremendous potential for tackling some of the toughest challenges in Alaska’s education system—workforce and college preparation followed closely by student success. “If we can’t fix this, I don’t know who can,” he said.

The board took action on several items, including approval of renaming the Kodiak Fisheries Industrial Technology Center, run by the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center. The name change and some organizational changes integrate the center more fully into UAF’s School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, UAF officials said.

The board also approved a final, critical step for the University of Alaska Anchorage to help solve a space shortage for science programs. The board gave formal project approval for up to $14.5 million to renovate Beatrice McDonald Hall, which houses a number of academic programs. The project, which involves a complete rebuild, will get under way in March 2013. The renovated building will be finished in time for classes in fall 2014, dependent on funding.

Beatrice McDonald Hall, known as BMH, was built in 1970 and needs major mechanical, electrical and architectural improvement and replacement. Most of the building technologies constructed in the building are over 40 years old and at the end of their useful lifespan. Current laboratory furniture and fixtures are in disrepair and not up to date with educational standards.

Regents on Thursday learned about a campaign at UAA called “I am UAA.”

A group including alumni, current students, faculty and staff of UAA made short presentations about how UAA has made a huge impact on their lives. Among numerous heart-warming stories was one by UAA alumnus Dan Bigley, who survived a brutal bear mauling in 2003 that required eight extensive surgeries and a long recovery period. The incident left Bigley blind, but he’s gone on to earn a master’s degree in social work and serves as an inspiration to others.

More “I am UAA” stories can be found at http://greenandgold.uaa.alaska.edu/. Click on the “I am UAA” link on the left-hand column.

In other business, the board elected Regent Pat Jacobson of Kodiak to serve as chair over the next year; Regent Bob Martin of Juneau as vice-chair; Regent Kirk Wickersham of Anchorage as secretary; and Regent Jo Heckman of Fairbanks as treasurer.

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