Our view: Labor of love

Retiring Anchorage Schools Superintendent Carol Comeau signs the T-shirt of Ocean Elementary student Kaylee Heck on Thursday, May 17, 2012 on the last day of school for the year. Comeau started her career in the school district in 1974 at Ocean View as a noon duty and teachers aid. BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News

If you read the Compass piece by outgoing Anchorage schools Superintendent Carol Comeau, you'll see she has few words for herself.

Instead, she thanks the people whom she has worked with over a 36-year career that went from crossing guard to district leader.

Two reasons for that come quickly to mind.

First, Carol Comeau was never about Carol Comeau in the superintendent's job. She was about the students, about their potential, about how best to teach and learn and provide a consistent, steady and continually improving education for a changing student population. She was what a good superintendent needs to be, always teaching -- but, even more, learning.

Second, she knew who she was thanking and why because she was in the schools. She didn't lead from a distance. She knew her schools, principals and teachers, parents and kids. She didn't punch a clock. She'd be at concerts and science fairs, plays and athletic events, evenings and weekends. Her presence and participation said more eloquently than words that the people and what they did mattered, and that she cared about them. It was good duty.

"I called the music concerts my winter therapy," she said Friday. "I was just amazed at what the kids and talented, talented teachers could pull off."

And, she added, "it's darn good entertainment."

She took joy in those performances and students' accomplishments in any part of their education, from the three R's to the stage and the field.

"That's been what I've tried to do in this work. It's not all about NCLB (No Child Left Behind) or AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress). At the end of the day, it's a well-rounded comprehensive education for a kid."

Comeau laughed when reminded of former Daily News columnist and current lawmaker Mike Doogan's description of her as the "best politician in the city." That was a fair comment and Comeau wasn't naive about the political game. But to her credit, she practiced a schoolbook brand of politics that stressed listening and compromise. She took her lumps with grace and shared credit for her victories -- which she cast not as her victories but the community's. She took pride in working across political lines and made no apologies for being a moderate -- one with steel convictions about our responsibility to educate our kids.

"It's really about trying to rally the community around our youth, so that we help them to be as strong and resilient as they can be, so when they leave they're ready for the next stage," she said.

Her next stage, more time with a family that's had to share her with a cast of thousands, begins after June 30.

For 12 years, Carol Comeau did one of most challenging jobs in the state with energy, honesty and an abiding love for the kids she served.

"I've loved this work," she said. It showed.

BOTTOM LINE: Carol Comeau was a splendid super, not least because she kept the caring spirit of the crossing guard.