Cowan to head school district on North Slope

'In a way, it's like going back to my roots'

Posted: Friday, June 19, 2009

Juneau Superintendent Peggy Cowan accepted a job heading up the North Slope Borough School District, she confirmed Thursday.

Courtesy Of Peggy Cowan
Courtesy Of Peggy Cowan

Cowan resigned from her Juneau position in January, saying she wanted to seek a role with more emphasis on instruction.

Her last day is June 30. She will head north almost immediately, starting her new job the first week of July. Her salary will be $150,000. She earned $132,500 in Juneau.

At the time of her resignation, Cowan said she was ready for a new challenge, and that since the district was in a good position it was time for her to leave. She confirmed those sentiments Thursday.

At 55, Cowan said she wants to again experience life in a smaller community before she retires.

"I am looking at the end of my career ... and my heart and passion is in teaching and learning," she said.

Her title will be the same, but Cowan said the new position will allow her to focus more on instruction. Her first task will be to revamp the district's curriculum.

"That's where I am a specialist," she said. "It's a superintendency, but the instructional aspects of it will be a big emphasis."

Cowan worked for a decade in Juneau's school district, taking the superintendent position in 2003. She previously worked in rural communities on the North Slope for the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the state Department of Education. She was a teacher-in-service in Point Hope in the early 1980s, which is in her new district.

"In a way, it's like going back to my roots," she said.

The North Slope Borough is large geographically but has a small educational system, including Barrow and seven other villages. It has 1,500 students compared to Juneau's 5,000.

Cowan said her work on instructional programs in Juneau mark the highlights of her time heading this district. She reformed secondary education with small learning communities in the high schools and developed culturally relevant programs for elementary schools. Her legacy is a culture of collaboration in teaching, she said, which will change the ways kids here are educated.

The reform was aimed at improving the district's graduation rate, which increased 12 percentage points, from 64 percent to 76 percent, during her tenure. Much of that improvement, or 9 percentage points, came during the 2007-08 school year, and it is unclear whether it will hold.

Cowan faced two major controversies during her tenure - building a new high school in the Mendenhall Valley and the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case. She said she is pleased to have brought both to a close, and thinks the community is starting to move beyond controversy surrounding the opening of Thunder Mountain High School.

Her replacement is Glenn Gelbrich from Oregon, who starts July 1.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at or at 523-2279.

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