Michael Johnson, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, is seen in this 2019 handout photo provided by the department. (Handout photo by Department of Education)
Commissioner Michael Johnson, head of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, will resign June 30, he said during a Wednesday meeting of Alaska’s state school board.
“Anybody who knows me knows I’ve been pondering this for months and months,” he said, citing the needs of his family, including children entering high school.
“It’s the right time, and I am super, super grateful that I get to leave my position by choice. That’s not always the case,” he said.
Johnson is the longest-tenured member of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s cabinet, having been appointed by former Gov. Bill Walker and retained by Dunleavy. He also is third in the state’s line of succession, behind Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer.
Shannon Mason, deputy press secretary for the governor, said she expects the governor to name a new lieutenant-governor successor by the end of the week.
Unlike other commissioners, the commissioner of education is not named by the governor. State law calls for the state school board to appoint a commissioner without regard to political affiliation, though the commissioner is subject to the approval of the governor. The commissioner may be removed by the board without the governor’s approval.
Johnson’s departure comes at an auspicious time for public education in Alaska. The Alaska Legislature passed a major education reform bill on the last day of the legislative session, and Dunleavy — who championed key components of the bill — has said that he will sign it.
The bill funds pre-kindergarten programs, enacts tough standards for students to require they can read by third grade, and calls for additional funding for low-performing school districts.
In a separate action, the Legislature approved a bill that will allow the state to work with Native tribes to set up tribally operated schools. The governor has not yet commented on that bill.
“Yes, there’s been a lot of great legislation passed,” Johnson said. He added that he believes he will leave the department in a good place and said he still intends to be involved.
He said he is “100%” behind Dunleavy “and his agenda going forward.”
In a prepared statement, Dunleavy thanked Johnson for his work and called him a “successful and thoughtful leader.”
Members of the state school board also praised Johnson.
“Commissioner, way to go out on a high note here,” said Bob Griffin, a member of the board from Anchorage.
“It has been a pleasure to work with Michael and the department leadership he has put in place,” said board member Lorri Van Diest of Palmer.
Appointed commissioner on July 1, 2016, Johnson previously served as superintendent of the Copper River School District, having also worked as principal of Glennallen Elementary, curriculum director, teacher and a special education program assistant.
In a prepared statement, Johnson called his work as superintendent an honor.
“There are far too many friends, colleagues, and fellow Alaskans to thank individually. I’ll look back on my time as commissioner with enormous gratitude. I will continue to support Gov. Dunleavy and an effective public education system in Alaska,” he said.
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