Mike Hanley ousted as Alaska Education Commissioner

Feb 4, 2016

In a press release Thursday, Governor Walker announced that Dr. Susan McCauley will take over as interim DEED Commissioner on March 1st. 

DEED Commissioner, February 2015.
Credit Skip Gray/360 North

Governor Bill Walker asked for and accepted Mike Hanley's resignation as Alaska’s Education Commissioner this week. A holdover from the cabinet of former Governor Sean Parnell, Hanley headed the Education Department for five years. 

Governor Walker announced the leadership change in a press release Thursday morning.

Hanley says he’s had inklings of a coming change since November or December, but he officially learned of the Governor's decision Tuesday. 

"This is a challenging time to transition," said Hanley. "And transitions are always hard, but we’re in the middle of the session, we’ve got new federal law, we’re moving toward a new assessment. But you know, I surely respect the governor and board chair for wanting to make changes, and I can surely honor that."

This month marks five years since Hanley became education commissioner under the Parnell administration.

His removal was a joint decision of Governor Walker and the State Board of Education and Early Development.

Board Chair James Fields says the leadership change reflects a major shift set out by the Board’s new strategic plan, which identifies three main goals: modernizing education, retaining quality educator, and local control of education decisions. 

"So it’s a pretty decent shift in the Department of Education where we’re trying to take it," said Fields.

The shift toward local control is being helped along by the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new federal education reform that replaces No Child Left Behind and allows for more flexibility in how states do things like teacher evaluations and standardized testing.   

In recent months, Hanley and the DEED have been criticized for what many see as the failure of the state’s new Alaska Measures of Progress assessment. Hanley says he’d be surprised if AMP didn’t play some part in the Governor and the Board’s decision.

“You know, I look back at when we put AMP in place; we went through the procurement process, and things happened with the vendor that basically made it really difficult for them to follow through. And it caused a lot of frustration,” says Hanley.” I don’t know that we could have foreseen any of that. But it happened on my watch, so I own that. There’s a frustration that we all have -- some of it’s with AAI, and some people have it with me -- so that surely could be a part of the conversation.”

Board of Education Chairman James Fields said Hanley’s removal has no “direct tie” to the controversy around the AMP test.

And while Hanley won’t get to oversee the development of a new and hopefully improved test, he says there are other areas during his tenure where he thinks the Deparment made gains. 

Notably, he says, he saw to the settlement of two lawsuits – the Kasayulie case and the Moore case – that helped ensure equitable state oversight and funding for rural Alaska schools.

“When I came onboard, there was a lot of friction and some divide between rural and urban Alaska," says Hanley. "We had two lawsuits that had been sitting in front of us, one for 8 years and one for 13 years. By settling those two lawsuits, it allowed us to continue conversations, rebuild those bridges and recognize all our students as one body of students, not defined by where they live. That was huge, I think, in helping to break down those conversations.”

After leaving the Department, Hanley says he’s weighing options in both the private and public sectors, possibly looking to work with young people in a more direct capacity.

Dr. Susan McCauley will take over as interim education commissioner March 1st.
Credit Alaska Department of Education and Early Development

  Governor Walker has tapped Dr. Susan McCauley to take over as interim Education Commissioner March 1st.

McCauley currently leads the Department’s Teaching and Learning Support Division. She previously taught in Hooper Bay and was principal and administrator in the Mat-Su School District. 

Contact the author at hannah@kdlg.org.