New Education Commissioner is Susan McKenzie

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The Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development has selected, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy has approved Susan McKenzie as the new commissioner for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. Heidi Teshner, who has served as acting commissioner since July, will return to her previous role as deputy commissioner.

McKenzie does not have to stand for confirmation from the Alaska Legislature.

“Ms. McKenzie has demonstrated a strong commitment to improving education and a vision for Alaska’s education system that aligns with the State Board’s strategic priorities and direction, especially in reading improvement. I look forward to working with her and Alaska’s entire education community to improve outcomes for all students, ” Dunleavy said.

“As an educator for 40 years, my life’s work has been to improve education for students, optimizing their achievement, leading to greater future choices. I’ve witnessed the pattern of failure to support students with evidence-based practices and have been desperately determined to affect change,” McKenzie said. “Our children deserve our best. Movement into higher leadership roles has been a blessing, and I’ve realized there is great alignment in my skill set and the service as Commissioner. I bring gained educational wisdom, Alaska experience and relationships, strong leadership, and knowledge of Alaska Department of Education and Early Development to use for such a time as this. I am a change agent for ineffective systems and practices. As a servant leader, I lead by example and will be involved with all groups, making changes needed to provide an excellent education for every student every day.”

The State Board of Education is looking forward to working with Ms. McKenzie in moving the state’s education priorities forward for all the kids of Alaska,” said Chairman James Fields, DEED State Board of Education. “Ms. McKenzie comes with a wide breadth of experience in education and leadership including rural Alaska experience.”

Ms. McKenzie currently serves as DEED’s Director of Innovation and Education Excellence. Previously she was a superintendent for eight years in the Gaston School District in Oregon. Prior to this she served as a principal in the Copper River School District in Glennallen, Alaska. Ms. McKenzie began her career as a teacher and special education teacher in Oregon. 

She has a master’s degree in Education from University of Alaska, Fairbanks in Language and Literacy with a reading endorsement. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education and added a Special Education endorsement later. Her administrator licensing was completed at Portland State University in 2009 and renewed in 2015 at Concordia University Chicago. 

Commissioner-designee McKenzie starts as commissioner on April 1.

28 COMMENTS

  1. Let’s try The Three R’s for a smarter next generation electorate in Alaska. Reading, Writing, and Rithmatic. Throw in logic, common sense, and independent thinking too.
    .
    Cancel Wokeism.

  2. She has 40 years experience in an education system that has been steadily going down the toilet. I’m sorry, but I can’t imagine this as a positive appointment. It is way past time to be thinking outside the box!

  3. So…
    The worthless lump of a governor, who sits quietly by as the social fabric of Alaska unravels in front of him,

    Selects somebody from Oregon, the most culturally rotten place in America.

    Facepalm, repeatedly. I expect so little from the cowardly Lion and still he underperforms.

    Yes, she could prove to be a pleasant surprise. She could also be what she appears, part of the intellectually and morally bankrupt system in Oregon.

    • So Ms. McKenzie rec’d much of her education in Alaska, spent much of her career in Alaska and much of that in rural settings far from the conclusion you’re attempting to draw but is still responsible for a prior generation of Oregonian children turning their state into a septic swirl during the time she was there? Do you go out of your way to spatter this site w/ nonsensical tripe or does it come natural to you?

      Make this news site a better place; never type again.

  4. She has a big challenge in front of her. The entire Alaska K-12 education system is a train wreck. It has been failing at its basic purpose of educating children for decades now. This failure is proven by independent academic achievement testing agencies. See schooldigger.com and others. Its amazing how much the bureaucrats and teachers are being paid to miserably fail to deliver results. Solution in one word: vouchers.

    • Wayne Douglas Coogan, I agree with you in principle regarding vouchers, however given the remote possibility of such a program ever being enacted I think it is important to take another action immediately.

      Flee the rotten schrool system, save your children and grandchildren and ultimately American Society itself. There are manifold options available. It will require some sacrifice, but are not your Grandchildren worth it?

  5. Nothing changes in AK education, period. A few weeks ago I had the unfortunate pleasure of watching the senate finance committee discuss how great Mt. Edgecumbe High School is and doting over the “future leaders” the school produces. According to US News and World Reports, Mt. Edgecumbe High School is ranked number 30 in AK high schools. This is nothing new as the school has been consistently ranked near the bottom of AK high schools for the past several years. This is a prime example of our state education system at its best.

    • You hear some bad stuff about the old ‘boarding school’ days.
      But you seldom hear bad stuff about St Mary’s Mission on the Andreafsky River;
      run by Catholic nuns who demanded good behavior or God help you ….lol.

    • Depends on what you want to teach. All that Sister Mary ever taught me was to keep my hands out of the way.

  6. Her statement hints at her grasping what needs to be done. Remember she will be battling her own ” deep state”. Let’s give her a season and sed what she does before throwing down insults and accusations.

  7. 40 years in the failing system sounds like a poor track record. We need new non union true for the kids people not the same failing system.

  8. How many of you are local school board members? Members of an ASB? Of the PTO? Coaches? Field trip volunteers? It’s time to realize that local education starts with local families whether you live in McGrath or Fairbanks. If you don’t have parents pushing their kids to be better, work harder, and get ahead, what do you have? If you don’t have a local school board pushing the Superintendent to be creative, build an inviting school culture and go after consistent and targeted grant funding, what do you have? The Commissioner of Education will hopefully set a high bar, but the performance of our students is up to us. Each and every one of us. Go to curriculum reviews. Bring your local Superintendent coffee or doughnuts and chat with them periodically, Assistants too. Encourage your school board members to make the right decisions for your local kids. No amount of deep state influence will derail a great community dedicated to setting the highest education bar for their kids.

    • Tell that to the parents in Virginia who were targeted as domestic terrorists by Attorney General Merrick Garland and the FBI when they had the temerity to question their School Board about the wisdom of allowing pubescent boys in girls bathrooms and locker rooms at school!

    • Sorry, can’t agree with your comments. It is our job to teach children that do not have either parent or community support. It can be done. I know since I have worked successfully with those communities for years and had great success. Now getting the teachers to teach what works is sometimes a different story.

      • Teachers can’t do it all and the 5 hours of instruction time they’re giving each day. Parents are far more capable of stimulating children’s brain synapses.

      • Judy, did you even read my comment? I think we’re saying the same thing. It’s up to each of us committed community members to ensure that all our local kids get the best possible education. My point was, it’s more in the hands of locals than in the hands of whomever is appointed Commissioner. I live in a rural community with a lot of broken homes and unsupportive parents. I volunteer in many places locally for all our kids. I hope you all do too.

  9. Will she insist that all districts give the ITBS basic skills test to every grade–both pre & post– at the beginning of every year and at the end to make sure every student advances? Will she go back to giving an exit exam for all seniors to see if they learned anything in 13 years of seat time in Alaskan schools? Will she make sure teachers take a Praxis test to ensure teachers are knowledgeable in the field they are teaching?
    Iowa Test of Basic Skills is still rated as the best standardized test– then districts have to exam at the results, make sure changes are made for improvement and share the information with the parents. Otherwise, it’s business as usual for the state who is always 49th ranking of 50 states. And we’re supposed to gvie 1/2 our Perm Fund to a failed system that refuses to be accountable. Wouldn’t that be nice?

    • First of all Hannah, she does not have the authority to begin the exit exam again. That was the legislative branch. I agree it is needed. ITBS tests are done in all 4 and 8th grades known as the NAEP test. It is given nationwide to all schools. Unless it has changed all teachers are still required to do the Praxis test to get a first time certificate. She supports the benchmarks given 3 times a year in all elementary grades (some districts go much higher). They are normed reference tests and given in reading and math. Hope that helps.

    • Pretty sure testing has been done for many years to see what level a child is on. Typically in one classroom in the bush, a teacher is teaching up to six grade levels in the same age group of kids. And yes there is testing done at the end of the year to see how much growth has happened.

  10. To all the naysayers in these responses, I need to let you know I have known Mrs.McKenzie for years. I have also supervised her as a first grade teacher in Utqiaġvik (Barrow), worked with her again as a principal in Glennallen, AK and more recently at the Department of Education. She was one of the best first grade teachers I have ever had the privilege to supervise. She has a wealth of knowledge in reading which is gravely needed with the new AK Reading Act. She has spearheaded the department with the massive training needed for the new law. I have thought for years the Commissioner of Education needed to be someone who knew something about reading. Is there anything more important in a child’s education than being able to read? She has extensive knowledge of rural Alaska which she will need. She has been a teacher, principal and superintendent. I am proud to know Mrs. McKenzie and hope you will join me in supporting her for the tough tasks that lay ahead. She is going to need our support because I assure you NEA, local districts, and rural coalition of districts will do everything they can to keep her from being successful. Education will not change in AK without not only a strong commissioner, but a dedicated Governor and legislative body that insists on change.

  11. Thanks, I did misunderstand. I just find that often teachers blame a family or problems in community. They can be dire. I just say it doesn’t matter what the problem is when that child walks in the room you expect the same of each child. No excuses. One might need more help but the expectation is still the same. That is what we have lost in education. Our expectation are low and excuses easy.

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