Alaska education commissioner outlines priorities to lawmakers

    Department of Education and Early Development Comissioner Michael Johnson. (Photo Credit: Milken Family Foundation.)

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The Alaska Department of Education provided an update to lawmakers on their top priorities, and outlined how they hope to reach the goals despite the ongoing pandemic.

    Their Strategic Priorities include Reading Proficiency by Third Grade, Increasing Career Tech and Culturally-Relevant Education, Closing the Achievement Gap, Teacher Recruitment and Retention, as well as Safety and Well-Being

    Education Department Commissioner Michael Johnson provided the update, he said the five priorities of the Alaska education challenge remain the best pathway out of the pandemic. The State Board has established five subcommittees around the five priorities to identify work and regulatory work that may be needed to help move the priorities forward.

    Johnson says the state School Board supports a reading bill to help support all students read at grade level by the end of third grade

    "The State Board remains strongly supportive of a comprehensive reading bill without a lot of accessories, by comprehensive I mean a bill that includes high-quality pre-K, accountability for reading interventions, and additional resources for our lowest-performing schools," he said.

    For increasing career technical education or CTE, Johnson said the state is setting up a clearing with the Alaska association for career and technical education.

    "We have granted them money and they're developing a clearinghouse, a website, for all CTE educators and programs in the state. The clearinghouse is a new platform that provides Alaska education agencies and educators the means to communicate, to collaborate, and to share effective supportive students and CTE programs both locally and statewide, because sometimes CTE programs are so isolated, that they don't have that collaborative opportunity that really improves opportunities for all kids."

    In efforts to close the achievement gap, Johnson said they provided the Cook Inlet Tribal Council a $1 million dollar grant to develop a culturally relevant curriculum. The State Board issued a request for public comment on proposed regulations regarding the term “world language” to include Alaska Native languages, making it so students who are working to meet Alaska Performance Scholarship requirements, graduation requirements, and college entrance requirements can with an Alaska Native language.

    Johnson said they will continue their work on the Teacher Recruitment and Retention plan, and reported that Dr. Barbara Adams will continue leading that work.

    "We did use COVID funding for that because the pathway out of the pandemic includes quality educators, and we know that the pandemic also impacted our ability to recruit and retain educators. Six areas just as review were identified enhancing recruitment efforts, strengthening working conditions, restructuring retirement options, developing leadership, creating paraprofessional pathways into certification, and streamlining certification."

    Johnson said they are working with the state Department of Health to improve the safety and well-being of students.

    "Visiting and working toward mental health supports and services for Alaska students. A primary takeaway from that collective is a need for more information on the landscape of current mental and behavioral health supports that are available around the state."

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