Juneau School Board member Phyllis Carlson will be the state's first director of rural education, Gov. Sean Parnell announced Thursday.
Carlson works for the Tlingit-Haida Central Council and is in Anchorage for the Alaska Federation of Natives convention, where Parnell announced her appointment.
Carlson was re-elected earlier this month to a third term on the School Board. She was attending the convention and could not be reached for comment about whether she would remain on the school board.
In a press release announcing her appointment to the new job, Carlson said it was both a privilege and a challenge.
"Because education is so vital to preparing youth to meet their future goals and become productive citizens, it is very important that we find connections between what they know, their world view, and the educational system that serves them," she said.
Alaska's great distances means that it has a higher proportion of small schools than any other state, but many of them have struggled academically. Carlson attended a one-room elementary school in Chignik.
Bill Martin, president of the council, praised the appointment, which got an ovation at the convention.
"Oh, it's tremendous, nothing but good news for us," Martin said.
Carlson most recently served as director of the Vocational Training and Resource Center of the council, after a long term as manager of its Johnson O'Malley Native Education Program and a stint with Head Start.
She has worked with the Rural Systemic Initiative of the Alaska Federation of Natives, University of Alaska Fairbanks and the National Science Foundation.
She has worked for many years at the central council, but is Aleut and graduated from Kodiak High School.
Carlson has lived in Juneau 34 years but grew up in the tiny community of Chignik on the Alaska Peninsula, where her dad was a commercial fisherman.
Martin said Carlson will be able to reach out to rural communities throughout the state, just as she has been doing in Southeast.
"We'll miss her, of course, but we're very proud of her and filled with pride," he said. "We feel like she's part of us."
Juneau's Brad Fluetsch, who recently completed a term as Alaska Native Brotherhood grand president, praised the appointment as "outstanding."
He said Carlson was " a good person for that position, has the right experience from many perspectives to really make the connections - policy, plans, implementation, management."
Carlson received her bachelor's degree from Alaska Methodist University in Anchorage, now known as Alaska Pacific University.
Carlson will be based in Juneau but will travel extensively. She will report to Commissioner of Education and Early Development Larry LeDoux, who has made improving rural education a focus of his efforts.
NEA-Alaska President Barb Angaiak praised LeDoux for creating the position and choosing an Alaskan with impressive credentials to fill it.
Union leader Angaiak has taught for 24 years in the Lower Kuskokwim School District, and said Carlson understood the issues facing rural schools, such as the impact of federal education reform efforts aimed at schools elsewhere.
"For some time now, NEA-Alaska has been concerned that the restrictive provisions of the No Child Left Behind Law - and its lack of cultural connection with rural Alaskans - have harmed our rural schools," she said.
Carlson begins the new job in November.
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.