Leadership Through Unity: We truly are #BetterTogether

Tamara Van Wyhe, DEED Director of Educator & School Excellence

Happy 2019! Every new year brings new opportunities and new challenges, and with the gaveling-in and out of the 31st Legislature, there has been plenty of speculation about what the next several months will bring for schools. Politics are involved, so (as always) there is plenty of doom-and-gloom about what may lie ahead. Call me an eternal optimist, but I beg to differ: This is not the time to fixate on what could go wrong. Never before have we seen the opportunities in Alaskan education that we see today. The sun will always rise in the morning and, at least between late August and early June, students will arrive at school, ready to learn. Students and their families depend on us to make sure the schools and classrooms our youth enter are prepared to engage, inspire, and ultimately, prepare them for life in their communities and beyond. That is no easy task, but it is the job for which we all, as educators, signed up. 

We live in a state rich with resources, filled with amazing people, abundant with creative thinkers, overflowing with a desire to do what we can with what we have — and, in so many cases, to do more than we have previously. It isn’t all about the state’s budget or the BSA. Don’t get me wrong: Money matters. We all know that. But, so does the willingness to think about new ways to reach our goals in education. Not every initiative is tied to dollar signs: Sometimes the determination to approach a problem from another angle provides the answers we have been looking for all along…without a larger price tag (and every now and then, at zero additional cost).

For more than two decades, I served Alaska’s students as a teacher, building administrator, district office director, and superintendent. During that time, I participated in myriad conversations about education in our great state — focusing on what is working, what isn’t working, and which leverage points would most positively impact the lives and learning of Alaska’s students. Each and every time, these conversations left me reeling with a sense of responsibility: What could I do, what could we do, to create change?  An ASA regional southeast superintendents meeting, followed by a convening of the SERRC Board, were among my first duties at DEED in early January. At both of these events, I listened as district leaders talked about working together. I leaned in as they searched for new entry points to collaborative efforts. I scribbled notes with a  new vengeance as I imagined ways DEED could serve as a positive, proactive partner in the work in which districts engage every single day of the year. 

And, as a result of those conversations, I have never been more excited to be an educator than I am today. Now is the time to take some bold steps and create the change for which we have been waiting. We have admired the problems, challenges, and even the solutions for long enough. The work to “fix” some of what isn’t working will not be easy; the time required to get new ideas off the ground can be daunting; but Alaskan educators are capable of great things — especially when they join together — and that includes DEED, districts, and the state’s professional organizations. 

When I began my career as an educator in Alaska nearly a quarter-century ago, I certainly never imagined beginning a new calendar year at the Department of Education and Early Development … yet, on January 2nd, I found myself here in Juneau. While the learning curve in my new role has been steep, this one-in-a-lifetime chance to serve districts, schools, educators, and students statewide through a role at DEED is a privilege I take very seriously. I look forward to thinking through the challenges, imaging the possibilities, and doing the heavy lifting to make good things happen alongside all of you, my colleagues across Alaska. Here’s to a new year and new beginnings. We truly are #BetterTogether!