Susan McKenzie enthusiastically talked about being “a change agent for ineffective systems and practices” when selected as the next commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development less than three weeks ago, but on Wednesday announced she is no longer interested in the position due to “personal reasons.”
Since then a lot of things have happened, some controversial, that are likely to affect the education department and commissioner’s job. But it’s not known which, if any, may be among the reasons for her change of mind.
“We do not discuss personnel matters,” stated Jeff Turner, a spokesperson for Gov. Mike Dunleavy, when asked if McKenzie discussed her reasons not to serve as commissioner with the governor or any of his top officials.
McKenzie, who along with other top education officials was participating in a three-day meeting of the Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development, did not return messages to her office Thursday. Keith Hamilton, a member of the board, did acknowledge her decision in a closing comment at the end of the meeting that referred to her family, which she mentioned earlier when telling the board about her decision to decline the position.
“Thank you for listening to your heart and for making a priority the things that are the most important in your life,” he told her.
McKenzie, who has worked in the education field for about 40 years, will remain in her current position as the department’s director of innovation and education excellence.
“Thank you to all who encouraged me,” she said in a prepared statement issued Wednesday evening. “Due to personal reasons, I’ve made the difficult decision to decline the offer of position as commissioner.”
A statement with an entirely different outlook about the job was included in the Feb. 27 announcement by the governor that he had appointed McKenzie to be the next commissioner starting April 1 at the recommendation of the education board.
“I’ve realized there is great alignment in my skill set and the service as commissioner,” she said in that prepared statement. “I bring gained educational wisdom, Alaska experience and relationships, strong leadership, and knowledge of Alaska Department of Education and Early Development to use for such a time as this. I am a change agent for ineffective systems and practices. As a servant leader, I lead by example and will be involved with all groups, making changes needed to provide an excellent education for every student every day.”
Among the developments that have happened since are a controversial bill limiting sex and gender discussion in schools proposed by Dunleavy and evolving legislative disputes about whether to increase the per-student funding formula for schools. McKenzie’s announcement she was withdrawing as commissioner was made the same day as the education board presented its annual report to the Legislature, where numerous challenges were discussed, and a sudden recommendation was made by a separate board in Anchorage to increase salaries for all state commissioners (as well as pay for legislators, the governor and lieutenant governor).
Heidi Teshner, a deputy commissioner who has been serving as acting commissioner, will continue in that role until a new commissioner is named, according to Turner.
The education board, which considered seven candidates selected with the help of a nationwide search firm, will “begin the recruitment process for a new commissioner and forward a candidate to Governor Dunleavy for his approval,” according to a news release.
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