Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Anchorage School District Hires Florida Outsider Jim Browder To Replace Carol Comeau As District Superintendent

In a mildly surprising decision, the Anchorage School District announced on January 31st, 2012, that Florida outsider Jim Browder has been selected to replace Carol Comeau as district superintendent. There'll be a three-month overlap between Browder, who will assume the post in April, and Comeau, who officially retires on June 30th. Browder was one of two finalists for the Anchorage job, along with Kenai Superintendent Steve Atwater. While the two finalists were well-qualified, I thought Atwater had a narrow edge because of his Alaska history and his experience as a rural educator. But apparently ASD decided that Browder's big-district experience took precedence; read ASD's official press release.

School board members were impressed by Browder's success delivering rising test scores in the face of budget cuts in Florida. He cut $95 million over two years when the recession hit that area. Board members apparently attributed complaints about Browder's demeanor in Florida to sour grapes over the cuts as well as a uniquely bad situation at Edison Community College not believed to be representative of what Browder is all about. Board President Gretchen Guess confirmed this, saying "We really focused on the seven years he was at Lee County. The fact (that) across the board, every grade level, every academic area went up over those seven years." Board members were also impressed by the fact that the school district he superintended, Lee County Schools in Florida, had a diverse student population of 82,000; the equally-diverse Anchorage School District averages a student population of 49,000. Because multiculturalism has become official social and cultural dogma, experience in managing diversity is considered a plus.

Compensation: Browder, who has agreed to a three-year contract, will make $180,000 per year; Comeau earned $165,000 per year. Both figures are well below the national average of $239,000 for an urban superintendent according to the Council of the Great City Schools. The district will also pay him up to $10,000 in moving expenses, but will not include a housing allowance. Browder reportedly would like to remain in Anchorage for at least seven years. The board will take a final vote on his contract at a special public meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. on Friday, February 3rd at the ASD Education Center

Steve Atwater's Reaction: According to KTVA Channel 11, Atwater released the following statement: “I was honored to be chosen as a finalist and appreciate our School Board, employees, and community support through this time. I offer my congratulations to Dr. Browder, and appreciate the Anchorage School Board selecting me as a finalist. The application process was a positive experience; it helped me gain a deeper understanding of education in Anchorage and Alaska. I look forward to continuing the good work that we are doing to give our students here on the Kenai a world class education.”

General Public Reaction: As comments posted to the ADN story. Mixed reaction, with a considerable number of people expressing concern about his previous human relations squabbles and saying that we shouldn't have hired an outsider. But if the outsider has qualifications effectively matching our needs, why should he be excluded? Browder is also a school choice advocate, which will appeal to charter school advocates; perhaps he can find ways to increase accessibility to charter schools. Since he's now "the man", he deserves an opportunity to show what he can do.

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