Alaska Announces New Commissioner of Education

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The people of Alaska have a new education commissioner who has been selected by the Alaska Board of Education and Early Development and approved by Governor Bill Walker (Independent).

The new commissioner is former superintendent of the Copper River School District, Michael Johnson (47) of Glenallen, according to the Alaska Dispatch News’ Tegan Hanlon.

“I’m very excited. It’s a huge honor,” Johnson said in a phone interview Thursday about his new job. “I can’t think of a better state to be called to be the commissioner for than the state of Alaska.”

Johnson will begin his tenure on July 1 and will earn $141,156 annually, explained Education Department spokesperson Eric Fry. He added that the commissioner’s salary was set by state law.

Johnson had been running against Kodiak Island Borough School District Superintendent Stewart McDonald. Two other candidates pulled their applications — Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District Superintendent Robert Doyle and interim Education Commissioner Susan McCauley.

“Congratulations, Dr. Johnson. Welcome aboard,” James Fields, board chair, said after Thursday’s vote. Fields currently serves on the Copper River School Board.

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott appreciated the experience Johnson accrued from educating in the rural areas of the state. He added that this history would allow the commissioner to bring a new perspective to his job that will benefit the state’s students.

Johnson is also president of the Alaska Superintendents Association and Alaska Council of School Administrators. He attended Columbia International University and received his doctorate from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Before being chosen for his new position, Johnson served as a principal, elementary teacher, district curriculum and staff development director, and special education program assistant.

Former Commissioner Mike Hanley resigned in February, a move requested by both the governor and state board members following the failure of the Alaska Measures of Progress (AMP) standardized tests. Mr. Hanley was appointed by former Gov. Sean Parnell, writes Weston Morrow for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

NEA-Alaska President Ron Fuhrer, who heads a group of roughly 13,000 teachers and support staff within the state, has welcomed the new commissioner to his new office. Fuhrer added:

“Our top priority is always student success and, with Dr. Johnson’s background as an educator, we look forward to working with him to improve student learning in Alaska’s public schools.”

The district from which Johnson comes is small — fewer than 500 students and rural.

When Johnson received the approval of the board, Stewart McDonald said he was thrilled, which might have sounded strange coming from a competitor. But McDonald pointed out that that before the selection process started, members of the state association of superintendents encouraged fellow members to apply. McDonald said that he and Johnson believed it was essential to have a superintendent in the position.

Johnson’s initial agenda will include finding a replacement for the AMPs, implementing the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, and attempting to do these things with less money and fewer people, says the Juneau Empire’s James Brooks. For the next two weeks, Johnson will be concentrating on moving his family to Juneau.