By 2025, the University of Alaska says it wants nine out of 10 teachers hired in the state to be one of its graduates.
According to the university, two-thirds of Alaska’s teachers currently come from out of state.
It’s an ambitious goal, one that will require more coordination among the teacher training programs at the university’s three main campuses. To oversee that, the University of Alaska Southeast Tuesday named Steve Atwater as the executive dean of the new Alaska College of Education.
The new role will be responsible for education programs at UAS while also coordinating with existing programs at UAA and UAF.
Atwater starts July 1. The job is based in Juneau, but he’ll travel frequently to work with faculty and staff at other campuses as chair of the newly created UA Teacher Education Council. Atwater said a big part of that will involve looking at common issues for the three campuses and finding uniform solutions.
“An easy way to look at that would be the placement of interns in rural Alaska,” Atwater said. “How do we do that? How do we put student teachers into rural Alaska? Right now we have three different ways to do it, and so this will be coming up with some processes that will be standard across the system.”
The UAS School of Education will be restructured. At UAA and UAF, the education programs will be absorbed into other colleges. UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield said class offerings and faculty will remain the same.
“So students will continue to be able to become teachers at each of the three universities in the university system, but he’ll be providing a coordination role and a leadership role across the entire state,” Caulfield said.
Caulfield made the final decision to choose Atwater based on recommendations from a search committee.
He said the university’s Board of Regents is looking to UAS to lead the system’s push for more Alaskan teachers. He said he’s excited for Atwater to take on the challenge.
“The major focus in the short run will be the restructuring, but my hope in the long run is we’re going to see far more Alaskans choosing to become teachers and we’ll see more students in our classrooms and in our online program as well,” Caulfield said.
Atwater said meeting the university’s 90 percent goal will mean working with partners across the state.
“So I look forward to working with the Legislature, other entities to try to really encourage that conversation to be broader than just the university recruiting students but to really grow the esteem of the teaching profession as a way to help direct or steer students into that,” Atwater said.
In recent years, school districts across the state have struggled with staffing shortages.
Atwater comes from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he’s the interim dean of the School of Education. He was a former superintendent for both the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the Lake and Peninsula school districts and got his start teaching in rural schools in Western and Southwest Alaska.
The Alaska Association of School Administrators named him 2013’s Alaska Superintendent of the Year.