UPDATE: Educator Excellence Committee

Facilitator: Dr. Lisa Skiles Parady
Director, Alaska Council of School Administrators

“We must agree on what matters most and work together to achieve it.”

– Michael Johnson, Commissioner, DEED

Alaska State School Board members Rebecca Himschoot and John Harmon are Co-chairs of the Educator Excellence Committee, which I am facilitating. We appreciate our DEED staff support, and the words of Commissioner Johnson to focus our efforts. Many thanks to all the members who have volunteered their time to serve on the Educator Excellence Committee.

Many of the following recommendations focus on teachers, but the full committee recognizes that reforming Alaska’s principal preparation and providing for ongoing, job-embedded support for principals as well as superintendents is also critical.

We have met multiple times and agreed early in the process that our work would best be accomplished by splitting into these three subcommittees (John and Rebecca are on each one, with DEED staff Sondra Meredith and Bob Williams supporting the three):


Group 1 – Prepare/Pre-Service

Subcommittee Chair is Dr. Steve Atwater with members Posie Boggs, Rick Caulfield, Erica Nelson, Justin Parish, and Sheryl Weinberg.


Group 2 – In-Service/Professional Learning/Accountability

Subcommittee Chair is Yatibaey Evans with members Kathy Blanc, Dan Carstens, Brian Conwell, Tammy Smith, Gary Stevens (Tim Lamkin), and Jessie Weiler.


Group 3 – Recruitment and Continuous Improvement

Subcommittee Chair is Tam Agosti-Gisler with members Sean Dusek, Wendy Kolberg, Joe Nelson, John Sedor, and Betty Walters.

Each group developed specific definitions of priority areas and identified essential components to be included in each subcommittee priority area (the ‘WHAT’ while trying to stay clear of the ‘HOW’).

Group 1 met three times in June and July to identify area(s) of educator preparation for improvement.  The group shared concerns that broadly fit into three areas: teaching of literacy skills, preparation to work in a cross-cultural setting and the limited number of pathways for non-traditional students to earn a teaching license.

Many educators in Alaska are prepared out of state and may not be new to the profession when they begin work at one of the state’s school districts.  Thus, the subcommittee’s conversation was not focused on a specific preparation program or limited to those new to the profession.  After a lot of discussion, the group decided to advance one strategy that would address each of these areas.

The subcommittee proposes to establish intensive pre-service and in-service academies where educators can receive training in one of the identified areas.  Ideally, the academies would be offered both during the summer for those new to the state and Alaskan educators and during the school year for pre-service candidates in Alaska.  The academies would establish cohorts of educators that would receive additional training as they gained experience.  It is hoped that an accompanying recruitment of teachers to Alaska would occur with the academy serving as an intensive orientation to the state, cross-cultural and small school teaching.

Group 1 Goal Statement: The State of Alaska will develop rigorous summer academies based on best practices that will support new-to-Alaska, new to teaching, and career-changing teacher candidates to develop Alaska-specific skills such as teaching literacy skills, cross-cultural teaching, and trauma-informed practices.

Group 2’s work includes the suggestion to expand re-certification requirements to include coursework in teaching in a cross-cultural setting and whether the proposed academies could be used for this purpose. One concern was that the academies should be cutting edge, and not based on old teaching standards, but build on these so that we have a common language for all teachers in Alaska. Another thought was that cultural issues are not limited to rural Alaska. Group 2 stressed the need for academies in both urban and rural Alaska.

Group 2 discussed creating a teacher leadership competitive grant program for districts to seek funding for local plans for teacher leadership. Teacher Leadership (TL) is defined as additional duties taken on by the teacher to influence the school culture, policies and practices in a positive manner to support student learning. These grants would be peer reviewed. The TL opportunities would be within the various school districts and may include: compensated mentoring, leading professional development, micro-credentials, team leading (observe growth of team-provide input to principals for evaluations) and more as districts determine.

Group 2 also discussed requiring 1 or more CEU’s of Cultural Integration for teachers upon re-certification. The idea was to utilize UA’s current classes or develop new course that offers opportunity to attend AFN (local districts to support attendance). Other ideas were to offer a Pre-AFN a preparatory class on AK cultural standards, ANCSA and the start of AFN, attend AFN, final class could be a report on the experience, how to incorporate the AK Cultural standards into lessons/class.

Group 3 developed a set of transformational ideas/goals. These included: Providing a salary bonus for National Board Certified Teachers, and to double the salary bonus for NBCT’s who teach in hard to staff schools/districts. They also discussed offering loan reimbursement for education graduates, standardizing the transferability of years of experience with state funded incentives to teach in hard to staff districts, and developing a statewide educator salary minimum.

The rationale for the first idea was that teacher quality is directly related to student achievement (Harris & Sass, 2011) and competitive salaries attract better qualified teachers (Figlio, 1997; Hanushek et al., 2005). The National Board Certification is a rigorous process that requires teachers to analyze and reflect on their practice and demonstrate through standards-based evidence their effectiveness.

Link to research:  http://www.nbpts.org/research/

Link to teacher career continuum:  http://www.nbpts.org/teacher-career-continuum/

Group 3’s rationale on loan reimbursements was that education graduates who receive, in each completed contract year in which a satisfactory evaluation was given, a 10% reimbursement up to 50%, are incentivized to return to Alaska, move to Alaska and/or stay in Alaska. There was a similar student loan forgiveness program offered in Alaska’s history that was successful in attracting Alaskan graduates to return, work and stay in the state.

Group 3’s rationale for the state to eliminate disincentives for movement between districts by standardizing the ability to transfer years of experience, educators are incentivized to do rotations between rural and urban districts that are hard to staff.

Group 3’s rationale for developing a statewide educator salary minimum. Recognizes the cost differentials between districts and helps level the disparity of those offering salaries that are too low.

All ideas will be further refined by the work of the full committee in the coming meetings.