Top educator shows students how to widen their horizons

August 2, 2008 

One of my favorite quotes comes from a politician but has nothing to with politics; it has to do with education. During a campaign event in 2006, former Gov. Tony Knowles put life into perspective: "The only thing you owe your kids is a good education. Everything else is negotiable," he said.

Studies have shown with the six hours a day your child spends in school by the time students reach age 18, they've spent 13 percent of their life in the classroom. That means as parents we depend heavily on the ability of teachers, counselors and administrators to help deliver that good education we owe our children.

Many of these professionals go without thanks or appreciation in a day and age where educators' biggest complaint is the lack of involvement by parents.

As I recently watched my last daughter walk down the aisle as part of the West High School graduating class of 2008, I thought about both of my daughters who received fabulous educations in the Anchorage School District and the countless people who helped guide them.

However, I couldn't help but focus on one person in particular, who for the last four years has been responsible for so much of my daughter's success.

From the recruitment of my daughter into the gifted program when she was an eighth-grader to the long hours spent on counseling and class schedules during her four years at West; from the mapping out of college choices to the writing of recommendation letters for admissions, there wasn't anything this woman wouldn't do to help.

But it just wasn't my daughter who benefited from the commitment of the coordinator of the gifted program at West High. Listening to classmates of my daughters during a graduation ceremony for the International Baccalaureate Program, I heard every one profusely thank this person for helping them reach such an elite education milestone: "Thank you, Mrs. Haines."

In 1978, with a masters degree in special education, Susan Haines took up a teaching position in Kodiak. She survived two years of wind, rain, and rough characters before moving to Anchorage, which has been her home for the last 28 years. Over the last two decades, teaching has been her life. Haines worked as high school counselor for most of that time, as well as coaching cross-country running and skiing.

She has also taken a leadership role in her career to attend to those students who may not fit into the mainstream. She became one of the early trainers in an anti-bullying curriculum pioneered at Wellesley College. She expressed her concern to prevent teen pregnancy by volunteering with Planned Parenthood. And her office is identified as a safe office for gay and lesbian students.

In the early '90s, she took a sabbatical to return to college to successfully pursue training and certification as a guidance counselor. In her counseling role, she became adept at scheduling, which continues to this day to serve her students well in fulfilling course requirements for graduation and preparation for college.

Haines continues to work part time in her retirement as coordinator of the gifted program at West High School. She works tirelessly to engage and prepare her students for college and their future. During Christmas vacation, she dedicates hours to help prepare college recommendations and applications. Professionally, nothing seems to excite her more than to help students and families launch the next phase of life.

One of Haines' favorite quotes is from George Elliot: "It is never too late to be what you might have been." Fortunately for parents like me: Her commitment to helping students is allowing them to be what they want to be today.

There are numerous educators like Susan Haines in the public school system that never get the deserved recognition for their good works and their commitment to helping parents provide what former Gov. Knowles rightly identified as the one thing we owe our children.

So here's to you, Susan Haines. Thank you.


Andrew Halcro is a former Republican legislator who ran for governor as an independent in 2006. You can read his blog at www.andrewhalcro.com.

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