Outgoing Juneau superintendent will help University of Alaska recruit teachers

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Bridget Weiss on Aug. 6, 2018. (Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The University of Alaska is tapping outgoing Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss to help build the state’s teacher workforce.

Weiss has been named the first-ever liaison for the Alaska College of Education Consortium. According to the university, Weiss will help the education program partner with school districts, state government and other stakeholders.

Weiss said she’s looking forward to strengthening the connection between Alaska’s K-12 and university systems. She chairs the Alaska Superintendents Association, and she said her relationships with local school leaders will be key to this position.

“I feel like my experience really lined up so nicely with this opportunity,” she said. “I’ve been in K-12 for a very long time, and this seemed to be the right way to use all the experiences that I’ve built over those 39 years in a constructive way, from a different angle.”

One of her goals is to increase the number of students dual enrolled in high school and college courses, especially for those pursuing teaching degrees.

“When high school students earn college credit in our system, that’s a big head start for them,” she said. “It’s more likely that they’ll become full-time students in our state university system. And when we produce teachers in our state system, they’re very likely to stay in the state.”

At a presentation to the state Senate Education Committee this week, university leaders showed a map displaying percentages of school district staff who graduated from the state’s university. The lowest percentages were in Northern and Western Alaska, where districts have increasingly relied on teachers from the Philippines

“We have capacity in our education programs,” UA President Pat Pitney said. “We need more students.”

The university already has several strategies to recruit teachers within the state, including a mentor program to support early career teachers and a teacher placement program to help school districts fill vacancies. It also supports Educators Rising, a nationwide program meant to help high schoolers pursue teaching careers.

“But we’ve got some things that are bigger than what the university alone can do,” Pitney said, referring to public school teacher salaries and retirement systems.

Weiss said she’s looking forward to advocating for changes to state policy as part of her new position.

“If we don’t have the foundational core of a defined benefit retirement and adequate funding, it’s going to be much harder to entice kids into this field,” she said.

Weiss announced her departure from the superintendent position in October. She’ll stay in Juneau for her new job, which starts July 1.

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