Reflections and Looking Ahead

Lon Garrison, Executive Director

I thought I would take a few moments to reflect on the past year and then look forward to 2023. I promise I will make it brief!

The past year all seems to be a bit of a blur. It has been filled with great accomplishments and incredibly sad, disappointing, and even devastating events.

As 2022 came into focus last January, our country and state continued to struggle with COVID. Just as we began to emerge from the challenge of the Delta variant, Omicron rapidly spread to be the dominant strain. Thankfully it was not nearly as serious a threat. Schools, parents, and communities struggled to balance providing effective educational opportunities and to keep students safe and healthy. However, what amazed me last spring was the practiced ability of school boards, staff, students, and communities to roll with the punches and persevere. The resiliency of all those involved was quite impressive, yet many still suffered and continue to do so. We still have much work to do.

Unfortunately, 2022 will have the distinction of being a year that has seen unprecedented numbers of mass shootings. The Uvalde school shooting in Texas that took the lives of 19 students and two staff members is clear evidence that there is much work to be done in every community and every school to keep our children safe in a place that should be filled with joy and learning. Please keep the parents, staff, and community of Uvalde and any other school that experienced a shooting event in your thoughts and prayers this holiday season.

2022 also brought some great education opportunities, especially in Alaska. Most, if not all, schools were back to primarily in-person learning, with some hybrid models continuing. Students were returning to school activities, school boards mainly were meeting in person, and AASB continued to offer our in-person academies, conferences, and workshops. Our staff has never been busier! The 2022 Annual Conference in Anchorage this past November was very well attended, and you could feel the excitement of truly being back together. As evidence of that, AASB raised over $28,000 for the June Nelson Memorial Scholarship fund in 90 minutes! It was unbelievable and still warms my heart whenever I think of it.

The 32nd Legislature wrapped up its final session, passing several education-related bills. Finally, we saw significant funding for deferred maintenance and school capital expenditures. Unfortunately, we did not see the increase in the Base Student Allocation we had hoped for, but we will pick up where we left off. We still have a long, long way to go to realize sufficient funding that helps keep districts whole and students successful. 

The Alaska Reads Act has brought focus and support to addressing our struggle with reading, one of the most fundamental skills our students need. It is not a perfect law, and a lot of work lies ahead in making sure the desired outcomes can be accomplished while still being responsive to the diversity of our schools and communities. Nonetheless, it is a start.

Looking ahead to 2023, I have hope and optimism that Alaska’s education system can have a bright future. I have that hope because I am confident that this year, school boards will speak loudly and convincingly to our Legislature, governor, and communities about the dire need to sufficiently fund our schools. I am encouraged that voices across the state and many sectors are coming together to support this effort. More politicians are signaling that this is a top priority. It will be our job to make certain that comes true.

I am also hopeful for all your students because of the desire we see from school boards and staff to invest time, money, and effort to develop their skills and competencies in their roles so that students can succeed. AASB stands ready to assist districts and school boards to the best of our ability and to fulfill our mission:

To advocate for children and youth by assisting school boards in providing quality public education, focused on student achievement, through effective local governance.

Thank you for your time, dedication, and passion for this important responsibility. Have a wonderful and safe holiday season, and we will see you in 2023!

Lon Garrison

Executive Director, AASB