Governor, state board oust Alaska education chief

Education Commissioner Mike Hanley 1 20 16
Education Commissioner Mike Hanley speaks to the Joint Education Committees, Jan. 20, 2016. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Mike Hanley is stepping down as Alaska’s education commissioner. Gov. Bill Walker announced the leadership change in a press release Thursday morning.

Hanley said it was the decision of the governor and the State Board of Education, who said they want to steer the department in a new direction.

“I believe there are some things around the board’s new strategic plan. I worked with them to develop that,” Hanley said. “There’s three primary goals: modernizing education, honoring local control, and recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers. We’ve begun to put some meat on that, and I assume they’ve got somebody else in mind that they would like to help lead in that direction.”

This month marks five years Hanley has been education commissioner. He’s a holdover from former Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration.

In recent months, Hanley and the department have been criticized for what many see as the failure of the state’s new Alaska Measures of Progress assessment. Hanley said he’d be surprised if that didn’t play some part in the governor and the board’s decision.

“You know, I look back at when we put AMP in place; we went through the procurement process, and things happened with the vendor that basically made it really difficult for them to follow through. And it caused a lot of frustration,” Hanley said. “I don’t know that we could have foreseen any of that. But it happened on my watch, so I own that. There’s a frustration that we all have — some of it’s with AAI, and some people have it with me — so that surely could be a part of the conversation.”

Board of Education Chair James Fields said that Hanley’s resignation has no “direct tie” to the AMP controversy.

Hanley won’t get to oversee the development of a new test, but he said there are areas where he thinks the department made gains during his tenure.

He said he saw to the settlement of two lawsuits, the Kasayulie and Moore cases, that helped ensure equitable state oversight and funding for rural Alaska schools.

“When I came on board, there was a lot of friction and some divide between rural and urban Alaska,” Hanley said. “We had two lawsuits that had been sitting in front of us, one for 8 years and one for 13 years. By settling those two lawsuits, it allowed us to continue conversations, rebuild those bridges and recognize all our students as one body of students, not defined by where they live. That was huge, I think, in helping to break down those conversations.”

Hanley will stay on board until March 1. He said he’s weighing options in both the private and public sectors, possibly looking to work with young people in a more direct capacity.

Susan McCauley
Susan McCauley. (Photo courtesy Alaska Governor’s Office)

Susan McCauley will take over as interim commissioner. She currently leads the department’s Teaching and Learning Support Division. She previously taught in Hooper Bay and was principal and administrator in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District.

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