Proposal aims to improve Alaska education by addressing school climate, connectedness

Proposal aims to improve Alaska education by addressing school climate, connectedness

JUNEAU – Today, Representative Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage) introduced a bill that would improve Alaska’s public education system by recognizing that student achievement improves when school climate and school connectedness improve.

The School Climate and Connectedness Improvement Act, House Bill 173, is the culmination of five years of collaboration with educators across the state and would require school districts to come up with plans to improve school climate and connectedness. This plan would necessitate the integration of concepts such as social-emotional learning, trauma-informed teaching practices, cultural competence and integration of Indigenous values, restorative practices for conflict management, and a tiered approach to behavioral interventions.

“We know student achievement is related to many factors, including being in an inclusive and welcoming school environment,” Representative Tarr said. “This bill incorporates the latest in research, which overwhelmingly agrees that creating a restorative, culturally-competent, trauma-informed, and non-punitive school environment is not only good for academic performance – it develops self-regulation and problem-solving skills that will serve children for the rest of their lives.”

HB 173 would also create a statewide School Climate and Connectedness Improvement Committee, which would support districts in the creation of school climate and connectedness plans. The committee would be appointed by the governor and consist of representatives from many different stakeholder groups, including superintendents, K-12 teachers, parents of K-12 students, juvenile justice and youth services, school social workers, and school counselors. Additionally, the Committee would have representation from all geographic regions of the state and across grade levels. This would ensure that the committee reflects the diversity of students and school districts in Alaska.

“The School Climate and Connectedness Improvement Act is the product of years of collaboration with education professionals in Alaska,” added Representative Tarr. “Through our annual Restorative Justice Summits we have worked with hundreds of educators from Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Homer, Palmer, Sitka, Kenai, Valdez, Chevak, Wasilla, Bethel, Dillingham, St.Paul, and Utqiagvik, over the last five years to develop this policy recommendation.”

Educators from across the state have weighed in about the importance of this bill and integrating these practices into our public education system.

Michelle Boyden, K-12 Guidance Counselor at Mat-Su Central School said, “To learn, children need to be in their prefrontal cortex where learning, problem-solving and all executive functioning takes place. Being a trauma-informed school means teaching and practicing self-regulation techniques, so they become second nature. Bringing trauma informed practices to schools increases learning, teaches life-long healthy ways to handle stress and naturally decreases discipline.”

The proposal will first be considered by the House Education Committee.