Change is Here – Where Are We?

Dr. Lisa Skiles Parady, ACSA/ASA/AASSP Executive Director

Today’s environment for educational leaders across Alaska is the most challenging I have seen in over 20 years. Make no mistake—from the inherent complexities in bringing every student in every school to their full potential, to coping with unprecedented threats to our fundamental foundation funding, to leading our staffs to be their best in the face of such uncertainty—we all have our hands full. Very full.

With that said, and while trying to avoid being trite, it remains a simple truth that within problems lie opportunities. In my view, we are nearing a tipping point at which we will no longer be able to sustain the status quo and will have to come together as educational leaders to reach for a new paradigm. No one, simply no one, can do it for us. Think about it. No one—not the legislature nor the administration, not our teachers and staff in the classrooms delivering quality education every day—can solve these systemic problems for us. We can’t do it alone—we can’t do it without our boards, teachers, staff, parents, communities, and other concerned stakeholders. But it is on us to find the ideas and the courage to lead.

Systemic change is hard. It means rethinking basic assumptions. We need to consider a statewide benefits plan that may reduce benefits in some places. We need to leverage distance education where possible. We may need to reconsider how resources are allocated to transportation. Heaven knows, we may need to rethink how smaller districts are led or staffed in order to stave off consolidation, without our input, direction. The State Board of Education and Commissioner Johnson are deeply engaged in strategic planning work designed to set a vision and direction for a more comprehensive systems approach to the challenges Alaska’s schools are facing. University of Alaska President Dr. Jim Johnsen is leading a similar Strategic Pathways Initiative, focused on teacher education at the University of Alaska. I applaud them each for their courageous leadership!  The systems must lock arms and lead.

We understand the school’s role as the heartbeat of community. We know that the most important link is between a teacher and their students. But we also know that wrapped around that relationship is everything it takes to deliver all of the pieces that support that classroom—hot meals and Phys Ed, tools that make a difference, training, policies that make sense, etc. The point is that education in modern society requires systems thinking, and our role as education leaders is to provide that systems thinking.

So, let’s redouble our efforts to brainstorm and innovate together, to mentor each other, to find a path through the thicket of financial uncertainty and unavoidable systemic change. We have to be brave enough to challenge conventional wisdom, to defend our systems amid the challenges we face, and to assert the support required to deliver on public education’s fundamental promise: that everyone in life gets an equal chance at a better future. As Lincoln said, we have to master the appeal to “the angels of our better nature.” Alaska faces a deficit of truly unprecedented magnitude, but we do so with resources our state’s founders, barely a half century before us, could only dream of.

The question before us is how to think anew, to refresh our systems, to think creatively and innovatively as to how to deploy what we have today to make a difference tomorrow, for our students, for Alaska.