As with all great treks, each step makes the next one possible

By Michael Johnson

Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development

Denali National Park is one of my favorite spots on Earth. My wife and I have enjoyed camping, hiking, and viewing the wildlife. During one visit, I remember a group of us standing in the Eielson Visitor Center looking down over the valley. From the clarity of our perch, we plotted our trek for the day. Our pathway seemed clear…until we started hiking. Each step took us farther down into the valley and brush, making it harder to see what was ahead and behind us. We made a wide loop that day, crossing a couple of rivers and streams, climbing up and down a couple of ravines, and eventually hiking back up to the visitor’s center. Only then did we have a clear sense of the path we had taken. We planned, we hiked, and then we knew where we had been.

That’s not unlike the experience of over a hundred Alaskans who have led the Alaska Education Challenge. They started by serving on committees focused on five strategic priorities: 1) Amplify Student Learning; 2) Ensure Excellent Educators; 3) Modernize the Education System and Finances; 4) Inspire Tribal and Community Ownership of Education Excellence; and 5) Promote Safety and Well-Being. They were guided by Governor Walker’s and the State Board of Education’s vision. Committee members also had the benefit of ideas and comments submitted by over 1,800 Alaskans before their meetings began.

Once the committees began hiking into the issues and ideas around the priorities, the terrain made it more difficult to see very far ahead. Yet, these exceptional leaders pressed on. Though they couldn’t see around the corner, they knew that improving the education system in Alaska was worth another step in the right direction, together.

On October 5th, all five committees came together to look back on the path they had taken and share their recommendations. They celebrated their journey, but also pointed forward toward the next climb. We heard powerful summaries of their meetings over the summer, and were inspired as they shared a vision for an excellent education for every student in Alaska.

Staff at the Department of Education and Early Development are now working through the recommendations and putting together a final report, as well as detailed action plans for continuing the journey started by Alaska’s Education Challenge. The State Board of Education will approve a final report to be submitted to Governor Walker and the Legislature in December to move the thirteen recommendations forward.

As with all great treks, each step makes the next one possible. The enthusiasm and commitment of Alaska’s education community will ensure we will keep hiking. The great educational opportunities happening in many of our schools make the next steps to improve our education system possible.

If you see any of the AK Ed Challenge Committee members, please thank them for the many hours they invested in the process. You can also visit to follow the implementation of the committee recommendations. I also invite your input and suggestions on the goals and other ideas you have to support student learning in Alaska.  AASB’s support of the AK Ed Challenge has been instrumental in its success and continued direction.

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The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Association of Alaska School Boards. AASB welcomes diverse perspectives and civil discourse. To submit a Guest Column for consideration, see our Guest Column Guidelines and email your 400-1000 word submission HERE.