Moving Alaska Education Forward With One Unified Voice

By Michael Swain, AASB Board President

Address to membership at AASB 64th Annual Conference, November 12, 2017

I stand before you today very humbled. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous as I take over leadership of this great association. That being said, I am confident about my passion to properly educate all children of Alaska. I have to tell you all a quick story. Several years ago, we were at the awards banquet at this conference, and Carl Rose introduced me to his son as “the future President of AASB”. At the time I thought he was crazy, there was no way that someone from a district with less than 150 students would ever end up President of this Association. Well Carl, wherever you are, I guess you knew something way back then that I couldn’t even comprehend at the time.

I would like to take a moment to personally thank those who have helped me achieve this position. First, my wife, Mary, whose love and support have allowed me to do what I do. You are amazing and I love you! Second, my sons, Trey and Dawson, who have endured me being away from home as I advocate for the children of this state. The board members of my local school board for their understanding and willingness to tweak meeting dates and work sessions around my often hectic schedule. To my fellow members, both past and present, of the Board of Directors thank you for mentoring me, your leadership, your confidence and, most of all, your friendship.

Now to where I would like to see us go as an association. I hate the saying “think outside of the box”. I’m over it. Instead, I think it’s about time we smash the box and give it a swift kick down the road.

It is disturbing to me that the classroom of 1920 looks eerily similar to the classroom of 2017. We have made so many advancements in technology yet, for the most part, we still have students sitting in rows of desks facing the teacher as they lecture. We ask kids “what do you want to be when you grow up?” When the fact is that 65% of kids entering elementary school today will have jobs that don’t even currently exist. Think about that. 65%! We need to change the conversation, and ask “what skills do you need to have to be successful in your future?” To do this we are going to need to fully embrace technology and utilize its benefits to the max.

As adults, change scares us and makes us uncomfortable. We don’t understand technology, it’s not the way we were taught. We think, “This is the way I learned and it seemed to work ok for me. So why do we need to do things differently now?”

With access to the internet today there is an unlimited amount of information available at our fingertips. It has become an extension of our knowledge. No longer do we need to memorize everything, only to know how to find it and separate truth from fiction. We spend a lot of time blocking websites and keeping students off of the internet during the school day. Instead, we should be teaching them to be responsible, meaningful contributors to this society. Set rules and expectations for them at an early age and define consequences for improper usage.

Districts need to break down some of the barriers between them and pool their resources when and where appropriate. Increase utilization of distance delivery, where students from two or more districts could be taught by a teacher who may not be at either site. This practice, if developed across the state, would allow all districts to increase their course offerings to students. Imagine being able to offer your students four or five different language courses, when many districts can’t currently offer even one. This could also allow for the reintroduction of art and music in many districts. Sharing services between multiple districts will leave more money for the direct education of our youth.

One major challenge to this will be setting aside our pride and egos. Too often the problems of adults become a hindrance to students. We will all need to relinquish some control and trust that our colleagues have the best education of Alaska’s children in mind.

It could be really easy at this time for us to become a divided association again, and go back to an urban vs. rural mentality. I say again because I have seen this happen, I will do everything I can to prevent this.

As president, I will represent ALL students of Alaska and EVERY district. It’s vitally important that we come together as an association, and move forward as one unified voice. I am excited to see where we, together, can take public education in Alaska. This is my plan as president. Thank you and I look forward to this next year serving as President of AASB.

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