Teacher Education Consortium Meeting Brings State Education Leaders Together

Vice President of Academic Affairs Dana Thomas leads part of the discussion during the consortium.

by Chas St. George

The University of Alaska has been very busy building partnerships with Alaska’s schools. Last year, the UA Board of Regents met with the Alaska’s State Board of Education and Early Development (EED). Esther Cox serves on the EED Board of Directors and recalled that it was the first time in a long time that the two boards had met. She also talked about the tone of the meeting.

“There was a lot of discussion about next steps, and accountabilities; that put into motion a number of agreed upon priorities,” said Cox.

One of those priorities was generating greater awareness about the UA Teacher Education Consortium. The consortium brings together education leaders from across the state to focus on continuous improvements in UA’s teacher preparation programs.  

University of Alaska Southeast Provost Rick Caulfield took the lead in organizing the first meeting held in Anchorage last September, and more recently in Juneau last week (March 26). For Caulfield, the goal of having the meetings is simple and strategic.

“Our goal in the end is to see more highly-qualified Alaskan graduates find employment in schools across the state—particularly in rural communities and in high-demand fields like special education. These meetings enable leaders to share ideas and data, and to develop common strategies and action steps,” added Caulfield.

UA Teacher Education Consortium participants discuss Rural Alaska K12 issues. Photo courtesy Diane Hirshberg, CAEPR

One of those leaders, Mat-Su Borough Superintendent Deena Paramo, said last week’s meeting was a very important step toward understanding where the gaps lie.

“The meeting really was about connecting the dots between K12 and the university. It’s important for us to have these kinds of meetings so we can talk openly about what it takes to prepare students for success in higher education."

"When you’re in a room talking about what kinds of skill sets we need in today’s teachers, it becomes evident that a school district my size requires a very different set of skills when recruiting teachers than the skill sets that are needed in rural Alaskan school districts.”

Dr. Rosita Worl is the President of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, and a member of the Alaska Federation of Natives Board of Directors. Dr. Worl addressed the importance of ‘Growing our Own Teachers’ during the meeting.

“Teachers are key to the future of our youth and communities, and it is essential that we have the best-trained teachers. Alaska is different in many respects to other states. The problems we see, particularly in our rural communities, stem from teacher training that is not designed to prepare teachers to teach culturally diverse students, and to live in remote communities. I applaud the university for reaching out to interest groups to seek ways to improve their teaching programs and to increase the number of Alaskan teachers, and notably Alaska Natives, to enter this noble profession that is so important to our future. Collectively, we may be able to make significant changes and improvements.”    

Esther Cox said it was critical for school district leaders to work closer with the university in teacher development. She went on to say that she is hoping that the Consortium will include input from the state’s principals. 

Alaska Department of Early Education Development Commissioner Mike Hanley talks to Teacher Education attendees about the challenges the State is working on in education. UAS Photo

“Principals are the boots on the ground. They have an understanding of what kinds of tools would better prepare a teacher to succeed in their schools.”

Sitka Superintendent Steve Bradshaw also attended the meeting in Juneau. Bradshaw noted that today’s Alaskan student comes to class with a very different set of circumstances than previous generations.

“Part of our discussion drilled down to a question that really needs to be addressed; ‘how do you balance a student’s academic environment with that student’s social environment?’ More and more students in our schools are not learning the way they should because of outside elements that can range from family dynamics to homelessness. This isn’t a rural, or suburban, or urban issue in Alaska; it’s a national issue. There is no silver bullet fix to the issue; it’s going to take accountability from all of us in order to find the best solutions for all of our students,” said Bradshaw.

The next UA Teacher Education Consortium meeting is planned to align with the Statewide Principal’s Conference, which will be held in Anchorage in October.

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