Alaska News

Mat-Su's Deena Paramo named Anchorage School District superintendent

Deena Paramo will be the next superintendent of the Anchorage School District, officials announced Monday.

Paramo, 46, is currently the superintendent of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District. She beat out more than 80 other applicants vying for the job of overseeing a school district of more than 48,500 students. Steve Atwater, interim dean of education at University of Alaska Fairbanks, was the other finalist.

"We got a lot of great feedback from the public about both candidates," Kameron Perez-Verdia, president of the Anchorage School Board, said at a news conference announcing Paramo's selection Monday evening. "We felt like Dr. Paramo's energy, experience and innovative thinking were the things that set her apart."

Paramo and the district have agreed to a three-year contract paying $235,000 a year — a boost of nearly 31 percent over departing superintendent Ed Graff's salary, not including benefits, and a huge raise from her job with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, where she is being paid $178,500. Perez-Verdia called the salary "really competitive" compared to pay for superintendents in similarly sized districts in other states.

The school board voted 7-0 to ratify Paramo's contract at its Monday night meeting.

The board hired an executive search firm, Ray and Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at a cost of nearly $40,000 to scope out candidates nationally.

In public forums last week, Paramo focused her message on collaboration among school officials so students could take classes at different buildings, a model she's championed in the Mat-Su.


But she said at Monday's news conference that she didn't necessarily plan to replicate her work.

"This isn't Mat-Su," Paramo said. "Certainly, there are some fantastic programs in Mat-Su … but you look and see what has worked for students."

Before becoming Mat-Su superintendent, Paramo worked within the Mat-Su district as an assistant superintendent, principal, assistant principal and teacher. She also currently serves on the University of Alaska Board of Regents.

Numerous state and local officials, including Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and James Fields, chair of the Alaska State Board of Education and Early Childhood Development, released statements Monday night welcoming Paramo to Anchorage. Some also applauded the school board's decision.

Andy Holleman, president of the Anchorage Education Association, expressed cautious optimism shortly after the news conference.

"Lots of people in Anchorage knew each of the candidates, and the variety of different likes and dislikes based on different situations," Holleman said. "I think it'll be a fresh start in a town that is very different from Mat-Su and very different from Kenai, and we'll see where it goes from here.

"It could go well," he added.

Deena Mitchell, co-founder of the education advocacy organization Great Alaska Schools, said she was encouraged by Paramo's level of enthusiasm.

"She's got a big job ahead of her," Mitchell said.

Perez-Verdia said school board members deliberated for about two hours Thursday after meeting with the candidates.

The board announced in October it would not renew Graff's contract when it expired this year. Graff will serve as superintendent until the end of June.

Paramo's first day will be July 1, though Perez-Verdia said her contract includes time in June to meet with school board members and the administration to work on the transition.

Paramo lives in a cabin in Big Lake. She said Monday she plans to keep the cabin and buy a second home in Anchorage that will be her primary residence.

A week ago, after learning Paramo was one of the two finalists for the Anchorage superintendent job, the Mat-Su School Board asked staff to put together "a bunch of different scenarios" for how the district could move forward, said school board president Susan Pougher in a phone interview Monday night.

Pougher said the board will discuss those options in an executive session

"It's kind of late in the year for a big search," Pougher said.

She called Paramo a "very driven, smart person" who was successful in the Mat-Su.


"We were lucky to have her and now the Anchorage School Board's lucky to have her," Pougher said.

Correction: This article has been edited to include the correct spelling of Mat-Su School Board President Susan Pougher's name.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.