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Every child looks forward

to a “snow day,” when

school is cancelled because

of heavy snowfall. But

veteran Alaska educator

and Columbia International

University alumnus Dr.

Michael Johnson says a

snow day in Alaska has

nothing to do with snow.

“We cancel school if it

gets to 50 below zero,”

Johnson wrote in an email


The Alaska weather is just

one challenge in the days ahead for Johnson who was named

Alaska’s commissioner of education in June. Johnson, who

earned his bachelor’s degree in Bible (’94), and master’s degree

in elementary education (’97) at CIU, has worked in Alaska as

a principal, district superintendent, elementary teacher, and

special education program assistant.

God’s Call to Education

Johnson grew up in Rossville, Georgia, just south of

Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was introduced to Alaska as a CIU

student when he participated in a short-term summer missions

program, and began to ponder the opportunities for village

ministry in Alaska through education.

“In his wisdom, (the late) Professor Cliff Bedell assured me that

serving as an educator was entirely in keeping with God’s call to

serve Him in ministry,” Johnson wrote for a CIU publication in

2013. “Over a meal in the cafeteria, Professor Bedell graciously

encouraged me to pray and follow God’s leading.”

Alaska’s Education Challenges

Johnson says God’s sovereignty as seen in the lives of fellow

alumni is a great comfort as he tackles the challenges of

overseeing education in Alaska.

“Alaska is going through a very challenging adjustment in its

economy,” Johnson wrote. “For the past few decades, we have

enjoyed a government almost entirely funded from oil revenue.

The dramatic drop in the price of oil and the declining amount

of oil flowing through the (Alaska) pipeline have combined to

create a budget crisis. At a time when Alaskans are thinking

about what they are losing, I hope to encourage them by all

“In his wisdom, (the

late) Professor Cliff

Bedell assured me that

serving as an educator

was entirely in keeping

with God’s call to serve

Him in ministry.”

Dr. Michael Johnson (’94,’97)

A Calling Leads to Commissioner of Education

they are gaining when children learn.”

There are also daily education challenges unique to life in

Alaska. For example, many of the schools are only accessible by

air or sea.

“We have students that actually fly to school each day,”

Johnson wrote. “Their bus stop is the local landing strip. We

have schools above the Arctic Circle. We have a school on an

island in the Bering Sea.”

Johnson also notes that the Anchorage school district is one of

the most diverse in the United States with over 90 languages

spoken there.

CIU Impact

Johnson says every area of his life and career has been

impacted by his time at CIU.

“Every professor I had positively impacted my spiritual

development,” Johnson wrote. “Where I have failed and

repented, is where I neglected to apply the biblical lessons and

admonishments of my professors.”

Johnson makes sure he does not forget his professional roots.

In 1997, he student-taught at Columbia’s Harbison West

Elementary School under the guidance of cooperating teacher

Joyce Hamilton, the wife of CIU seminary professor emeritus

Dr. Don Hamilton.

“I still wear a tie her class gave me at the end of my student

teaching experience,” Johnson wrote.



CIU Today