Anchorage School Board will not renew superintendent's contract

Anchorage School District Superintendent Ed Graff announced Friday that the School Board has chosen not to renew his contract when it ends next year.

Anchorage School Board President Kameron Perez-Verdia said at the afternoon press conference that the Board has "very aggressive goals" and in order to achieve those goals, as well as face financial and political challenges, it must find a new leader.

The Board had unanimously appointed Graff as superintendent in 2013 after Jim Browder unexpectedly retired eight months into his three-year contract. Graff will remain in his position at the helm of the state's largest school district through the end of the current school year, Perez-Verdia said.

Graff said his three-year contract was set to end on March 18, 2016, but he and the Board agreed to extend it through June so he can help with the transition.

"I plan to move into a new role next year in the District, but I absolutely remain committed to my position as superintendent throughout the rest of this school year," Graff said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us and we know that we're on the right track to continue to be successful and provide the opportunities to our students so they can do great things."

Perez-Verdia remained relatively vague during the press conference Friday about the specific reasons why the School Board decided not to renew Graff's contract. The School Board has discussed Graff's contract in private meetings over the past few months.

"The contract negotiation process is unfortunately confidential and part of the executive session," he said. "What I can tell you is that we have been very pleased with some of his work over the past 2 1/2 years and very happy that he is planning on helping us through this transition."


Perez-Verdia said that the School District has a lot to do, from completing significant capital improvement projects to handling the results of new state standardized tests. The School District is also facing a tight fiscal climate and needs to have someone who works well with the Legislature, Perez-Verdia said. He described the superintendent position as "a very political job."

During the press conference, Perez-Verdia underscored the Board's focus on Destination 2020 -- the School District's strategic plan that includes goals like having 90 percent of students graduating each year by 2020.

Perez-Verdia said the search for a new superintendent will begin immediately. The Board has already asked for help from the Council of the Great City Schools, an organization of the nation's largest urban public schools systems. The Board is also forming a search committee and plans to hire a search firm, he said.

"We plan to ensure that staff, parents, community members and students have a voice in this process," he said.

Perez-Verdia said the last time the Board conducted a superintendent search, it spent between $30,000 and $40,000.

Heidi Embley, School District spokeswoman, said the announcement that Graff's contract would not be renewed went out in a letter to staff Friday afternoon.

"We didn't realize it was coming at all," said Andy Holleman, president of the Anchorage Education Association teachers union.

Holleman said Graff started as superintendent during a tough time for the School District and did "reasonably well," though "it wasn't as collaborative as we would have liked to see."

Alyse Galvin, a member of Great Alaska Schools, a grass-roots organization that campaigns for school funding, described Graff as "a very kind man." She said he "has shown great leadership when it comes to compassion and caring for children."

However, she said she respects the School Board's decision to not renew his contract. In the next superintendent, she said she would like to see someone who is transparent and strong, who speaks for all children and who works well with parents, staff and the School Board.

In a letter to the Board Thursday, Graff wrote that his primary goal is to remain focused on students as he finishes his contract as superintendent.

"Being superintendent of one of the 100 largest districts in the nation is not easy, but the work is well worth it, knowing the positive difference we have made for so many students," Graff wrote.

Graff has been with the School District since 1991, when he started his teaching career at Gladys Wood Elementary School. Nine years later, he became a principal and in 2008, the chief academic officer.

Graff is married to an Anchorage elementary school principal. They have a son in kindergarten at a neighborhood school.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.