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Tuesday, 13 September 2011 00:00

Ken Anderson and Boise High School : Great Expectations

Boise High School on a weekday morning is deceptively quiet. Between bells the halls are empty and the historic school buildings form an educational island amid the bustle of downtown activity. Nestled in the heart of Boise and near the center of District 19, Boise High School is Cherie’s Alma Mater. Principal Ken Anderson points out her place in the Boise High School Hall of Fame.

“Before our meeting last week, I didn’t know Cherie personally, but I have known of her work in the community for a long time.” Anderson’s endorsement of Cherie’s candidacy for Legislative Seat A in District 19 came at a time when education is at the forefront of voters’ minds throughout the state of Idaho. These are complex and critical issues that Ken Anderson thinks about every day.


With over 1400 students, the atmosphere is, to a great extent, the responsibility and the creation of the school administration. According to Ken
Anderson, the role of principal is a lifestyle rather than a job. When the school day is over there are games, dances, student productions and events, field trips and other extra-curricular activities vital to the total school environment.  “My wife is an educator, my children participated in high school athletics – at this point in my life school involvement is definitely a lifestyle.”

Anderson is enthusiastic about Boise High and praises the other local high schools as well, pointing out that Newsweek lists Boise institutions in the top 1500 schools in the United States and Boise High School made it into the top 500.  Anderson speaks eloquently about the long-term task of creating a safe, creative, and challenging learning environment for all kinds of students. “We try to emphasize an acceptance of differences and teach students the skills they need to resolve conflicts.” Boise High School has a very diverse and eclectic student body, a calm atmosphere, and
high academic standards. Last year 94% of graduates went on to further education.  Anderson emphasized that a policy of mutual respect is important in establishing an environment where concentration and learning is possible.

“We aren’t perfect, but we try to work every year to emphasize life skills and character education, that will serve the students well, now and in the
future,” Anderson says. “We have used peer mediation with good results in the past, but at this point our students seem to have internalized the ideas and there are very few conflicts that go that far.”  He points out that the school recently had one entire year go by without a fight breaking out.

Anderson cites the book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education (2010) by Diane Ravitch, a former proponent of the “No Child Left Behind” concept. Her new book, a surprise bestseller, discusses ideas that Anderson finds useful in his daily work and he recommends it as a fair examination of educational policies and their effect on students.

Anderson describes four main needs that have to be addressed for a school to be effective. First, the staff and student body must buy into the stated goals–this agreement cannot be forced, but is established over time. A second factor is the creation of a positive and encouraging school environment serving a broad range of students. An overall expectation of academic rigor is of critical importance. The fourth factor necessary for student success is a stable home environment, an area outside the control of teachers and administrators.

Asked about recent cuts in funding, Anderson responds by citing the determination of his teaching faculty to continue to provide excellence in the
classroom. “It was a big hit, and right now we are seeing it in positions that are empty due to retirement that we are not replacing—we have three rather than four counselors, for example.”

“If you were King of the World, what would you want for Idaho schools?” This was an easy question for Anderson to answer. Laughing he said, “Hmm, King of the World, eh? I’d like to see all the schools in every part of the state, large and small, have the basic facilities to serve their students and a well-paid and enthusiastic faculty.” He discusses the talent and motivation that he sees in students today. “They have access to so much information, more than we had growing up. They are very aware, motivated, and it will be incredible to see what they can accomplish.”

According to Anderson this broad awareness makes for a committed student body. “Community service is encouraged and the numbers involved in that way rise every year,” he says, citing 300 students involved in community projects last year.

As a former student of anthropology, Ken Anderson has always been curious about how people think and why they do the things they do. His early experiences in union negotiations taught him the importance of “getting to yes.” Part of Anderson’s ability to inspire arises from his basic expectation that it is possible and necessary for diverse groups of people to work together toward realistic solutions. This ability to concentrate on the positive and to envision and enact policies that reflect great expectations makes Ken Anderson an effective leader.



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Cherie Buckner-Webb
Senate D-19 Campaign
P.O. Box 9813
Boise, ID 83707

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