Hanley’s departure comes at critical time for Mt. Edgecumbe

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Education Commissioner Mike Hanley’s departure comes at a critical time for Mt. Edgecumbe, the state run boarding school in Sitka. The Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program is interested in piloting an accelerated, STEM-focused high school on the campus. As details of that proposed takeover unfold, Mt. Edgecumbe administration was looking to Hanley as one of their defenders.

Commissioner Mike Hanley has a history of standing by Mt. Edgecumbe High School. Last spring, the House Education Finance Committee began asking whether the state could still afford the boarding school – which, as a residential program, costs the state about $4.7 million. For some, the conversation hinted that Edgecumbe was on the road to closure.

While Hanley was a part of those explorations, he ultimately defended keeping Edgecumbe as is.

“I surely hope that there’s not across our Legislature that there’s not support to get rid of Mt. Edgecumbe,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

And last week, when the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, or ANSEP, proposed taking over Edgecumbe facility and turning it into an accelerated high school, Hanley rushed to Edgecumbe’s defense.

“Here’s a program that has a proven track record with all the attributes and strengths in place that they felt they would like to take over.”

Hanley spoke with Dr. Herb Schroeder, would founded ANSEP in 1995, prior to his presentation to the House Education Committee. The program wants to adapt it’s largely STEM-focused summer program into a three-year boarding school that would feed students into the University of Alaska system. Speaking with KCAW on Monday, Hanley expressed support for both programs.

“I love Mt. Edgecumbe and ANSEP is another great program in the state,” Hanley said. “I think it’s fair to say there’ definitely a need to increase STEM protocols but I also see there’s a definite need for high quality residential schools that go in all kinds of directions, not just STEM fields.”

ANSEP says it’s high school would also offer tracks in psychology, elementary education, and business management. Yesterday, the Board of Regents and University of Alaska Administration issued a statement saying they did not have a hand in generating the proposal. Their statement also expressed concern that idea wasn’t “rigorously reviewed” by the Department of Education and Early Development, which Hanley led.

Bill Hutton, the Superintendent of Mt. Edgecumbe High School, called Hanley “an outstanding human being” and that is dismissal is hard news to swallow.

“It also impacts Edgecumbe because he’s been a big fan and a big supporter and made that known around the political hill and for other people and that’s really important to use with a man of that stature really supporting Edgecumbe,” Hutton said. “I’m not presupposing that the next person is not, I’m just saying that he has been outstanding in his support of Mt. Edgecumbe High School.”

Dr. Susan McCauley will take over as interim Commissioner on March 1st. Hutton said “we’ll swing with the change and do the best we can.”

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