Former Anchorage School District superintendent now serves on UOAA board of directors
Native Californian Carol Comeau ’63 was born in Berkeley but grew up in San Marino, enjoying the sun and warmth of the Golden State. Wanting to experience life outside California, she moved north to study journalism at the University of Oregon, but after her freshman year changed course and majored in elementary education instead.
She could have been forgiven, then, for wanting to return to either journalism or Southern California after her introduction to life as a teacher.
“I taught for a year in Springfield, at Moffitt Elementary,” said Comeau. “I taught third grade. That was a real culture shock. It was before Title I was passed, so I had 40 third-graders, and that really threw me for a loop. I didn’t feel prepared to deal with the social issues—a number had fathers in prison, and parents on welfare. The academic part didn’t throw me, but the social issues did.”
Fresh out of college, with the ink barely dry on her diploma from the College of Education, Comeau was thrown in the deep end as a teacher. She took to it though, like a Duck to, well, water.
“What I learned above all else was that I had to reach out to families outside of school,” she said. “If they felt education was important, then I could help. That informed my career.”
Comeau began attending events in the community, and interacting with her students and their parents. She learned what her students’ interests were outside of the classroom, and provided library books and activities tailored to them. Eventually, she was even invited into her students’ homes for visits.
“I hope it made a difference,” Comeau said of her approach. “I look back and it makes me cringe—in 1963-64 we were dealing with the Kennedy assassination, and there was a lot of turmoil. I’d like to know how [my students] turned out.”
Carol married Dennis Comeau ’65 and the couple had a son, born in Eugene, and moved to Anchorage in 1965 so that Dennis could work in the family business. Carol and Dennis had two more children, and Carol was content to be a stay-at-home mother, but a move to Spokane in 1972 changed everything.
“I got involved with the school board and the League of Women Voters,” she said. “That rekindled the desire to teach. My husband and I transferred back to Anchorage, and I got my teaching certificate renewed.”
Comeau then taught for 11 years, before becoming the president of the teacher’s union, director of elementary education, and then the assistant superintendent for instruction. In 2000, after seven years as assistant superintendent, Comeau was promoted to superintendent in charge of overseeing the entire district. Much like her first year at Moffitt Elementary, Comeau was thrown in the deep end. And just like at Moffitt, she thrived.
“I was appointed after the previous superintendent was moved out of the job,” she said. “Overnight I became the interim, and to all of a sudden be responsible for the entire district was pretty overwhelming. I had to rebuild bridges with the board, the staff, and the community. Trying to rebuild relationships while learning on the job kept me pretty busy.”
Comeau served the Anchorage School District as superintendent for 12 years, before retiring in 2012. Carol and Dennis then spent 10 days driving from Alaska to their new home in Bellingham, Washington, taking a scenic tour through Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon.
“We took our time because we wanted to enjoy the scenery,” Comeau explained.
Comeau did not retire simply to enjoy a life of leisure though, and several years ago the UOAA life member joined the association’s board of directors.
“I thought it was an interesting thing to do,” Comeau said. “I got a great education here, and the College of Education helped me greatly. I’ve enjoyed my five years on the board, and it’s been enlightening to come back three times a year. It’s been fascinating to learn about the new programs and facilities. The UO is thriving, and it’s a great place to learn.”
To learn more about the UOAA board of directors, click here.