Profile                                                            Page 51


From Rancher to Alaskan




Lisa Parady
Lisa Parady

As Lisa Parady considered taking a position in 2008 as assistant superintendent on the North Slope of Alaska, one personal concern revolved around her chocolate Labrador retrievers. Polar bears, known to roam around Barrow, could be a danger. She was reassured “everybody knows polar bears don’t like chocolate.” And so the Wyoming native made the 2,491-mile career trek northward.

Life on the frontier is nothing new. Parady grew up on a ranch in Kaycee, Wyo., before heading off for law school. She’s worked as an attorney on and off over 20 years, more often holding down high-level posts in state government. She has served as chief of staff in the Wyoming Department of Education, senior policy analyst for the governor and state director of workforce services.

When Parady was recruited for her current post as assistant superintendent in the 1,800-student North Slope Borough district, she and her husband checked out the place. She says they found “a vibrant indigenous culture where I could both learn and make a difference.”
North Slope is the largest U.S. school district by area, the size of Minnesota, and the northernmost, too, bordering the Arctic Ocean. With a $65 million budget, the district runs 11 schools in seven Inupiat villages plus Barrow, with most accessible only by small planes.

Peggy Cowan, North Slope’s superintendent, credits Parady with leading the effort to integrate Inupiat culture, history and language into a curriculum that meets the state’s standards. She promoted the use of local biographies and history to bring relevant reading to students.

The district hired consultant Jay McTighe to help with the revised lessons. “What impressed me off the bat,” he says, “was Lisa had a clear concept of what the school district needed and the recognition that it would take time.”

McTighe points to the “four legs to Lisa’s stool — a clear vision, a strategic mind, collaboration skills and an innate ability to handle details and organization. … Working in Barrow is complex. To me, it would be daunting.”

Parady is creating a model for indigenous education in Alaska and perhaps beyond, according to several educators. She also represents the rural Alaska viewpoint on statewide boards and committees.

One of Parady’s biggest challenges is in the personnel area — recruitment and retention of strong teachers and seasoned principals willing to serve in remote villages.

“We tell [teacher] prospects that if they need Wal-Mart and don’t like cold, this is not the place,” Parady quips. “But if they’re interested in native culture and adventure, it is.”

A new member of AASA’s governing board, Parady says she believes in situational leadership. “I include others and work toward consensus, but there are times when a leader has to make hard decisions,” she says. “I am direct, see myself as a change agent and have a sense of the possible.”

With a work ethic to be admired, Parady was back in Wyoming for the birth of her fourth daughter three years ago, saying, “We call Kaycee our Barrow blessing.” She was on the phone with the school district’s director of student services when she went into labor. “Well,” she told her colleague, “I think I should probably go now!”

Marian Kisch is a freelance education writer in Chevy Chase, Md. E-mail: mariankisch@verizon.net


Currently: assistant superintendent, North Slope Borough School District, Barrow, Alaska

Previously: attorney, Skiles and Parady, Rock Springs, Wyo.

Age: 46

Greatest influence on career: My father, Mason Skiles. He rode wild horses as a young cowboy and is both a certified public accountant and attorney. He is country smart and people smart — he thinks through what other people need and he sticks to what is right. 

Best professional day: In August, I was thrilled to learn my daughter’s preschool teacher was someone I had recruited a few years earlier. The fact that she was still with us and doing an excellent job was satisfying.

Books at bedside: Drive by Daniel H. Pink; Supporting Indigenous Children’s Development by Jessica Ball and Alan Pence; and Parenting the Strong-Willed Child by Rex Forehand and Nicholas Long (for my 3-year-old)

Biggest blooper: We waited too long to confirm local hotel reservations for our August inservices and discovered the Arctic boom is real. All hotels in Barrow were sold out! So we had to make arrangements in Anchorage.

Why I’m an AASA member: AASA gives us all a voice and leverage. We must keep national education policy grounded in the reality of delivering public education because education is the great equalizer. 


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