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
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.