A Grateful Principal

Michael Angaiak, Alaska’s 2018 NAESP National Distinguished Principal, Anne Wien Elementary, Fairbanks, Alaska

Overwhelming. Humbling. Unforgettable. Traveling to Washington D.C. to represent Alaska as an NAESP “National Distinguished Principal” two weeks ago and then being recognized again at last week’s 52nd Annual Alaska Statewide Principals’ Conference in Anchorage are experiences I will always remember and, for which, I will always be grateful. This “red carpet treatment” has been surreal, to say the least, and has been so outside the norm of our daily work as school principals that I’ve only wanted to share it, being a recognition that I know so many of our AAESP colleagues truly deserve. Here in my ninth year as a principal in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, I’m also married to a principal who is now in her 16th year as a school administrator so, since first being named this year’s NDP for Alaska, I’ve told others the truth: Not only do I not feel I’m the “most distinguished” elementary principal in the state of Alaska; I’m not even the most distinguished principal in my own home! Truly, I am surrounded by colleagues here in Fairbanks whose work inspires me on a daily basis and for whose support I am so grateful. Underlying all of this and, honestly, the whole reason this individual recognition has even been possible, has been Anne Wien Elementary, my AWEsome school community which has so profoundly shaped me as a principal, as a professional, and as a person. 

Fresh out of the University of Notre Dame and having just completed my teacher certification through the University of Alaska Fairbanks, I was first hired in 1997 as a 6th grade teacher at Anne Wien Elementary by principal Loyola McManus. Loy was later succeeded by Leslie Campbell, who was also recognized as Alaska’s NDP during her career and who began to push me in this direction of school leadership. After teaching for 13 years at Anne Wien, I became the principal at Ticasuk Brown Elementary in our nearby North Pole community and for whom I will forever be grateful for their patience and professionalism in letting a new principal find his way. Though I had planned on being at Ticasuk for the long term, Leslie Campbell’s retirement from Anne Wien in 2013 was too perfect an opportunity to return “home” again and I have been back at Anne Wien as principal ever since. 

It is this pride in “home” that has continued to guide my career. From being a K-12 product of Fairbanks’ public schools, myself, to being the son of a 2nd grade teacher in my mother and a University of Alaska program director in my father, to my own Yup’ik roots here in this remarkable state we are all privileged to call home, I cannot express how honored I am to work alongside Anne Wien’s 73 staff members each day as we support the individual growth of our 411 students and cultivate their own sense of home. This place and this work have given me purpose and, for that, I will always be grateful. Though I will never feel worthy of this hefty title of National Distinguished Principal, it has given me a distinct goal for which I will try to aspire. I am so honored to call myself a member of our AAESP and I will remember this year, always.