The Warmth of Alaska

By Claire S. Hertz, SFO posted 02-22-2014 11:01


In December, I visited our Alaska ASBO members during their annual conference.   As I left Oregon, my friends teased me about going north at the worst possible time of the year.  I anticipated being colder than I had ever been, and was pleasantly surprised. 

When I arrived, the polar vortex had created an unusual phenomenon.  There was snow on the ground, but Anchorage was twenty degrees warmer than home.  I had bundled all up, and didn’t need it!  The sun didn’t come out for more than a couple of hours a day, but it was still very pleasant.  I was reminded that one of our ALASBO members – Tammy White from the North Slope School District in Barrow, Alaska – had watched the sun set in November and wouldn’t see it return for months!   Ok, so maybe we complain about the endless rain in Oregon, but at least we do get to see the sun on a regular basis.

ASBO President Ron McCulley presents ALASBO President Laurie Olson a gift and thank you for volunteering for her organization. 

I found the ALASBO members to be warm and inviting. We have a lot in common in educating kids from state to state, but I found Alaska has some things most of us will never encounter.  Some schools in the colder regions have all kids ride the bus.  It’s too risky for them to walk to school because of polar bears!  I learned it takes a minimum of ten students to make a school in the remote villages of Alaska.  I can only imagine the challenges of offering a full curriculum to 10 students K-12.  Internet connectivity is an important component of connecting students to the world and many educational resources.  Getting a fast connection in remote areas is more than challenging.  Another first for me, athletic teams and student activity groups hop planes to compete with other schools.  When central staff members visit a school via plane, they make contingent plans for spending the night.   Weather may not allow them to return home for several days.  I promise to never complain about not having time to visit schools again.  I can drive to all 51 of them in 20 minutes or less!

While there are many differences from what we experience in Oregon, I did find a lot in common. The love for kids and the hard work done by school employees for the betterment of the community is something we all share.  One thing Oregon could learn from Alaska is how to attract a diverse work force.  I noticed ALASBO members were a diverse group representing many cultures.  My district has 90+ languages spoken by students and families. 49% of our students are minorities, and we will soon be a majority, minority district.  Our goal is for staff to mirror the demographics of our students, yet we have made little progress with only 10% licensed minority staff. 

What would an ASBO conference be without student entertainment?  We had East Anchorage High School choir, Bartlett High School Choir and dancers from the Alaska Native Charter School.  


Some of the most special moments were when ASBO President Ron McCulley delivered a keynote: “A Life Changing Experience” describing his personal journey the last few years.  Ron reminds us of what is important, and how priorities can change.   He also had advice for all of us. 

He closed with a Freddy Mercury quote:  “I have a life to live, I have less time to live it than most other people but I have a life to live.”  It was a touching experience for all who attended.  ALASBO thanked him with a gift - a hat made out of Nome musk ox hair known for its warmth. 

ASBO Executive Director, John Musso, shared the new Global School Business Network (GSBN) (where I’m going to post this as a blog).  All ALASBO members now have access to the GSBN as an affiliate member status to ASBO.  Other states will soon have the opportunity to do the same.


My Alaska visit was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot from my ALASBO peers.   I took lots of photos, and I promised I would share them.  They can be found on Flickr here.    You can also go to my Twitter account to see what I posted in the moment during my visit - @clairehertz.  I want to thank all of ALASBO for a wonderful time, and the great warmth and hospitality shared with me.  I have a whole lot of respect for the work you do.  You are an amazing group of educators. (Ok…an outstanding group of accountants too!)

ALASBO leaders volunteer to provide service in many ways.

More Alaska photos can be found on this FLICKR page
1 comment



02-27-2014 15:36

Claire, I loved reading your blog about your ALASBO experience. It sounds like such a wonderful time. So great to see your photos! Hope you're all keeping warm.