Aligning Missions to Achieve Shared Goals

By Norm Wooten

AASB Executive Director

On April 20 approximately 100 invited committee members met in Anchorage for the kickoff of Alaska’s Education Challenge. Over the years a variety of task forces have been formed to examine issues covering a wide array of topics important to Alaska, including education. Many of us may have participated in these events and while some have produced meaningful changes, others have not.

At my table, as the conversation centered around what we hoped to accomplish during the day, there was a commitment to transform education. I would characterize it as cautious hope with a touch of cynicism. As a facilitator I realized we had a daunting day in front of us.

The morning was filled with speakers to get us started on the right path including:

  • DEED Deputy Commissioner Sana Efird;
  • State Board First Vice Chair Sue Hull;
  • Governor Bill Walker;
  • Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott;
  • DEED Commissioner Dr. Michael Johnson;
  • DEED Data Management Supervisor Brian Laurent.

In observing participants around the room I noticed rapt attention being given to speakers as their messages built upon each other, painting a picture of the day.

We then broke into the five committees to begin the work:

  • Student Learning
  • Educator Excellence
  • Modernization & Finance
  • Tribal & Community Ownership
  • Safety & Well-Being

Bob Whicker facilitates the Modernization and Finance Committee

AASB was privileged to be invited as participants. Bob Whicker facilitated the Modernization and Finance Committee, and Timi Tullis and I co-facilitated the Tribal and Community Ownership Committee. Additionally, school board members Pete Hoepfner, Tiffany Jackson, Tam Agnosti-Gisler, Sandy Shroyer-Beaver, Penny Vadla, and Katrina Church-Chmielowski served as committee members.

Timi and Norm co-facilitate the Tribal and Community Ownership Committee

In my experience of facilitating groups, the most difficult job is to create in each person a sense of participation, rather than a sense of observation. Not so with this group. From the start, participants exhibited teamwork by sharing ideas and demonstrating respect for each other. My co-facilitator and I became listeners and had to provide very few prompts to keep the process moving. I saw cautious hope turn into “can-do” zeal. The attitude became, “let’s get this done.” And I saw this happening in every other group.

At the end of the day during the reporting out there was pride and ownership from all committees, with a commitment to move toward the next phase. My belief is that Alaska’s Education Challenge will change Alaska’s education. In the end what will it look like? I haven’t the slightest idea. Will everyone get what they want? Certainly not. But as long as we keep students first it will be okay.

Tribal and Community Ownership Committee discussion

Since returning to Juneau I’ve been replaying the entire day. The 100 members of the committees have buy-in. But what about those who were not there? How do we get them on board and ready to accept the changes? And then I had an epiphany.

AASB’s Delegate Assembly meets each year to provide guidance to the Board of Directors and ultimately to AASB’s staff. The Delegate Assembly is the collective governance voice of the Association. Its major task is to create a Belief Statements and Resolutions document, Where We Stand, and update it every year. This document outlines the Association’s position on a variety of issues important to education.

A quick scan through the document revealed that, of the 140 belief statements and resolutions, 25 of them are potentially addressed by Alaska’s Education Challenge. In other words Alaska’s Education Challenge could potentially move 18% of the issues deemed important by school board members toward fruition.

The list includes:

  • B.10 Child Advocacy Mission statement
  • B.11 Language, Cultural and Ethnic Diversity
  • B.12 Increase in Family and Parental Involvement in Schools & Educational Programs
  • B.14 Prevention/Early Education
  • B.16 Declaring Children the Top Priority of Alaska
  • B.17 Equity in Education
  • B.18 Alaska Native Teacher Hire and Retention
  • B.18(a) Quality Staff Improves Student Education
  • B.20 Educational Improvement
  • 1.6 School Improvement & Student Achievement
  • 3.1 Declaring Children of Alaska Our Most Valuable Resource and their Health, Safety, Welfare, and Education is of Paramount Importance
  • 3.2 Promoting Student Success Through Social and Emotional Learning and Positive Youth Development and Support
  • 3.8 Suicide Prevention, Education and Treatment Efforts
  • 3.9 Caring and Connected Schools
  • 3.17 Student Wellness
  • 4.1 Supports for Staff Development
  • 4.3 Alaska Statewide Mentoring
  • 4.5 Addressing the Teacher, Specialist and Administrator Shortage
  • 4.11 Alternative Pathways to Certify Highly Qualified & Effective Teachers
  • 4.13 Superintendent Education and Training
  • 5.1 Career-Exploration Programs
  • 5.2 Curriculum Expansion Via Distance Delivery
  • 5.11 Encouraging Districts to Adopt Standards for Parent/Family Involvement Programs
  • 5.13 Relating to postsecondary Classes for Secondary Students
  • 5.19 Supporting Authentic Assessments

Making progress on these issues has the potential to create more meaningful change than anything ever accomplished in education since statehood.

AASB is thankful to have been asked to be a part of this important event. As members of the Association, we urge you to join us in supporting the goals of Alaska’s Education Challenge, and commit to sharing information with DEED’s dedicated team. Working together, we have a unique opportunity to help Alaska’s education system better meet the needs of today’s students.