Turning the Page: School of Education is writing a new chapter

By Catalina Myers
Early Childhood Education Professor Hilary Seitz teaching Creativity and the Arts in Early Childhood.
UAA’s School of Education (SOE) has been hitting the proverbial reset button for the last four years. With the announcement of the B.A. in early childhood education (ECE), the Council for the Accreditation of Education Preparation (CAEP) granting accreditation at the advanced level in 2021 and the recent hire of Tonia Dousay, Ph.D., to serve as SOE dean, the university’s education program is hitting its stride.

“I think the big message I’ve been working on is that it is a brand new day,” said Dousay. She was hired in July 2022, officially arriving in Anchorage in September after a long drive up the Alaska Highway.

Recognizing the toll the events of the last four years had on SOE faculty and the education community, Dousay spent much of the fall semester relationship-building and surveying faculty and staff to see what holes needed to be filled. She also initiated one-on-one meetings with educational stakeholders from school districts and programs across the state to learn more about educator workforce needs in Alaska. Her boots-on-the-ground approach paid off with renewed enthusiasm and partnerships with SOE, and she is looking forward to continuing the momentum generated during the fall semester.

What’s new

One of Dousay’s priorities was to bring back the B.A. in ECE, and in 2022 the Department of Education and Early Development provided provisional approval, which was a huge step forward in SOE adequately preparing early childhood teachers, a significant workforce gap within the state.

A second priority was revamping the former Indigenous Education Studies course, now named Indigenizing Education, which focuses on preparing teachers to be more culturally inclusive regardless of whether they are teaching in a big city or a rural community.

“That’s what the Indigenizing education focus does, it flips the conversation and focuses on how to become aware of cultural needs as a core component of being a teacher,” Dousay said. “These are two big changes we’re starting with, and I think that that’s going to make a difference in the kinds of programs that we can offer in SOE, and I think it’s also something that our faculty are ready for.”

Other recent developments include a partnership with King Tech High School, where 11th and 12th graders have the opportunity to earn dual credits for both high school and college through a capstone course. SOE is also rolling out a “Distance Learning Box,” a toolkit with all the equipment needed to achieve remote learning successfully. Additionally, SOE is working on expanding its presence at the Alaska Middle College and is continuously seeking to make new community partners.

Reimagining SOE

Despite the tumultuous changes SOE experienced recently, Dousay is optimistic about the future. She said the fallout from the 2019 accreditation issue offered an opportunity to reevaluate and create new programs more tailored to Alaska’s education workforce needs.

Within the next four years, Dousay is hopeful that CAEP will reinstate the lost accreditation licenses. She said SOE is currently going through the process to provide state and federal agencies with the correct data and paperwork needed to reinstate those licenses. To put it simply, SOE needs to go back and check all the correct boxes, and once that process is complete, she is fully confident that licensing will not be an issue going forward.

With new programs, partnerships and a new dean willing to roll up her sleeves and keep a “door is always open” policy, UAA’s SOE is back on track and looking forward to welcoming Alaska’s future educators back to their programs.