A professional aquaculturist, Garrison’s career shifted into education when he was elected to the Sitka School Board. “You never know what’s going to happen when you take on a new role,” he says. Barnacle, however, doesn’t seem to mind the change. (AASB photo)

Former Sitka School Board president Lon Garrison has been named executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards.

The appointment is an interesting professional turn for Garrison, who began his career in Alaska in hatchery management.

Although he’s been living in Juneau the past five years working in a couple of different jobs for the Association of Alaska School Boards, Lon Garrison still looks and sounds exactly like he did when he was the Aquaculture Director for the Sitka Sound Science Center, or decade he spent prior to that working for the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association.

The picture on the AASB’s Facebook page announcing his promotion is not a headshot of a guy in a suit. No way. Garrison’s sitting on a rocky beach, with the beard, the ballcap, the mandatory Southeast Alaska hoodie, and his golden retriever Barnacle by his side.

“You never know what’s going to happen when you take on a new role,” Garrison said, “and getting elected to the Sitka School Board, and ultimately getting elected to the Association of Alaska School Board’s board of directors really impacted my life a lot more than I ever imagined.”

Garrison served almost three terms on the Sitka School Board — just shy of nine years — when he resigned in 2015 to move to Juneau to become the Association of Alaska School Board’s School Improvement Director, and later its Director of Membership Services. 

But those weren’t the jobs he was aiming for. Already a board member of the AASB, he applied and interviewed for executive director in the spring of that year, and was passed over in favor of Norm Wooten — a longtime member of the Kodiak school board and already an AASB employee.

Still, he got his foot in the door, backfilling behind Wooten.

“I find that it was kind of a blessing in disguise that I’ve had this opportunity to get down in the trenches and do the work with everybody,” said Garrison, “and now I feel like I have such a great foundation about what we do as an organization, who we work with — I have relationships across the state — I feel much more prepared than when I tried for the position in March of 2015.”

The Association of Alaska School Boards provides a broad slate of services for school boards, like assisting with developing policy, or superintendent searches. Garrison is taking on the top job at AASB at a time when school funding is under threat in Alaska — he calls them “heavy headwinds” — and the education model could be changing before our eyes.

“Public education has probably changed forever, given the pandemic,” Garrison said. “So we’re going to face many new challenges in that regard. As an association in working with school boards, what are we going to do to help support them and their governance role in making decisions, and trying to keep communities and constituencies together and serving students.”

Garrison’s only regret about his promotion is that his friend and mentor, Dr. Tom Conley, did not live to see it. Conley, who passed away in 2018, served 17 years on Sitka’s School Board, and prior to that served on Ketchikan’s School Board. Conley was a pediatrician, and typically arrived at board meetings sporting some distinctive tie.

As executive director, Garrison is rethinking his wardrobe.

 “I hope Tom Conley is looking down and excited about this,” said Garrison, “I might have to get a cool tie.”

Garrison will succeed Norm Wooten as executive director of the AASB beginning on January 2.