The Anchorage School Board has selected the new superintendent for the Anchorage School District. The Board reviewed more than 150 applications for the position.
Jim Browder will be the new superintendent for the Anchorage School District. He’ll replace retiring superintendent Carol Comeau, who has served as superintendent since 2000. School Board President Gretchen Guess made the announcement at district headquarters, saying the Board chose Browder because he’s aligned with the their vision for the district.
“The Board is very excited to welcome Jim and his wife Beth to Anchorage. He brings an energy and experience to the district that we know will lead to great things. As you know, he has demonstrated ability in delivering academic success for all children and in doing that in the face of budget cuts. He is very aligned with the board and the direction that we’re going,” Guess said.
The direction the board is going is to have all students graduate prepared for post-secondary educational and employment opportunities – something the district has struggled with and made a priority in their vision statement. Before selecting Browder, the Board spent months on the selection process, sifting through around 150 applications. They eventually narrowed it down to two finalists – Steve Atwater, current superintendent of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District in Soldotna and Browder, former superintendent of Lee County School District in Fort Meyers, Florida – both visited the school district for three days in January. Guess says Browder won’t officially start until summer, but he’ll begin his transition to the job in February with a visit to the district, then he’ll start full time, alongside the current superintendent this Spring.
“He’ll be starting full time sometime in April. With a focus on getting out to all of our schools before the school year ends, meeting with teachers and parents and the community. There’s no question and no doubt though in the board’s mind though that Carol’s in charge until the 30th…. just to be clear,” Guess said.
Browder has already accepted the job. The outgoing superintendent, Carol Comeau says she will do everything she can to help prepared Browder for his position.
“To help educate him about Anchorage and the state, about programs, about our personnel, about what I think is working really well and about well and how we got there and about things we really need to work on,” Comeau said.
Browder expressed his enthusiasm about his selection by phone from his current home in Florida.
“We talked this morning, we talked this evening and have worked through the discussion and I’m just delighted that I’m their choice,” Browder said.
He’s so delighted because, he says, the Board that hired him has such a clear vision.
“Their vision is very clear in relation to doing what’s best for children, including the parents in the community, having a real open and collaborative type work style, assuring that we’re on track academically, making sure that we’re doing everything that we can for tax payers and making sure that we’re being frugal in relation to the dollars that tax payers give us,” Browder said.
Browder’s pay will be $180,000 a year, well below the national average for an urban superintendent, which is $239,000. The outgoing superintendent – Comeau is currently paid $165,000, that’s the lowest in the nation for an urban district leader. Browder’s contract is for three years, with up to $10,000 for moving expenses. Although he has experience, Browder says his first priority in his new job will be listening.
“Listen, listen, listen to the people in the community, to the board, to parents, to employees and get a real sense of the things that everybody in our community believes we need to do for children,” Browder said.
Browder says his experience in the Lee County School District, the 40th largest in the nation with approximately 82,000 students will prove valuable in Anchorage. Lee County includes the city of Fort Meyers, which has similar demographics to Anchorage with just under 50 percent white and the rest students of color or multiracial. And like Anchorage, Browder says, dropout rates were a major concern there. Although Browder says he has a lot to learn about Alaska’s unique cultures and challenges, he says he already has a good idea about what he wants to see happen in the District.
“I want every youngster to have the ability to graduate from high school. I want every youngster to be able to have the choice of being career or college ready. And those are things we do through aligning our curriculum to making sure that we’re teaching the standard that they need to be successful in the assessments that they take,” Browder said.
Anchorage school district is Alaska’s largest and most diverse with approximately 49,000 students speaking more than 90 languages. The new superintendent will supervise around 6,500 employees and manage a budget of more than $800 million a year. He’ll start July 1.