2018-2019 Superintendents to Watch-Dr. Karen Gaborik

Dr. Karen Gaborik 
Fairbanks North Star Borough School District 
Fairbanks, Alaska

Dr. Karen Gaborik has risen through the ranks of education from teacher to principal to assistant superintendent to now superintendent. Perhaps that’s why she’s such a prominent education leader in Alaska and is a strong advocate for improving online and face-to-face communication practices in her district: She has firsthand knowledge of its importance. 

In a district the size of New Jersey, Gaborik is committed to increasing accessibility and two-way communication. She conducts regular school visits, even when it’s 40 below zero!  She is known for her regular Facebook Live events, Coffee with Karen, to keep stakeholders up to date about the district and respond to questions in real time.  

Effective communication is embedded in the district’s strategic plan as a major goal. Gaborik has increased resource allocation for communications and has elevated the role of communications staff. She did this during the 2017-18 school year by restructuring her staff in the central office, combining three small offices into a Communications, Development and Engagement Department. The greater collaboration and increased efficiency of this new department, as well as the creation of a department head who fills the role of communications expert on the superintendent’s senior leadership cabinet, has greatly increased effective communications throughout the district.

This has led to successful communication campaigns, including one during the 2018-19 school year focused on student safety and wellbeing, to increase the awareness issues inside and outside the school as well as awareness of district resources available to students. Campaign messages were specific to many critically important community issues, including bullying intervention, bus safety, suicide prevention, teen driving, boating and ATV safety, and active shooter response training.  

Gaborik invests in the necessary tools to improve accessibility in her district, and it’s clear she has changed her district for the better.