Nathan Erfurth

Nathan Erfurth

The Local President
Kenai Peninsula Education Association

Nathan Erfurth wakes up every morning focused on how he can support the educators of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association. With 430 members spread out across 42 schools in an area the size of West Virginia, this can be a daunting task, but one he is eager to accept.

“My primary responsibility is to listen to my members, hear what they’re going through, and find ways to articulate issues into policy changes,” said Nathan, who serves as the president of KPEA.

Like so many Alaska educators, Nathan came to the state from Outside. He and his wife Sara accepted jobs in the Lower Yukon School District in 2012 where he first became a member of NEA-Alaska. He has no family history of union activism but felt he had an ethical obligation to sign up and show solidarity with his fellow educators. Since then, he’s become more involved in rights, bargaining, and eventually running to serve as president.

The role of a local president varies depending on the size of the membership they represent. Nathan serves in a full-time release capacity, meaning he doesn’t work in the classroom while in office, something he misses greatly.

“It’s very difficult to leave your kids and your classroom,” said Nathan, “but what you realize very quickly is that you’re supporting hundreds of educators who are all doing that work every single day. You can help a lot of students by stepping into a union leadership role. By supporting educators who are supporting students you can have a very large and positive impact on hundreds of lives.”

Even though he’s not giving lessons in the classroom right now, he’s never far away. On any given day Nathan will hop in his truck and head out to a school to talk with members. It doesn’t matter if someone wants to pick his brain about extracurricular compensation, rights issues, or general conversation about morale, Nathan listens intently and dutifully scribbles notes. Those conversations are invaluable to him as local president because they allow him to keep tabs on school specific and broader district-wide issues. Based on what he learns, he can bring them to district leadership and advocate for policy changes that will lead to improvements for his members and students.

Ultimately, Nathan’s job is defined by his ability to help people. While he has an obligation to his members to support their rights as educators, he also serves as a bridge between the union and the communities they work in.

“I wish people knew that test scores don’t represent what’s really happening in the classroom,” said Nathan. “Those standardized tests are a measure of whether a kid had breakfast or not, or got into an argument with their mom in the morning. Kids are learning unquantifiable skills every single day from one another, and from their teachers, that won’t show up on a test.”

In the Soldotna High School auditorium at 4 p.m. on a Monday, this was on full display. After a full day of meetings, Nathan went to visit the school he’s taught at since 2014 where his wife Sara is directing Joseph Kesselring’s, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” a dark comedy set in Brooklyn in the late 1930s. Nathan has been involved with the SoHi theater department for years, helping with lighting and special effects, and even writing a play focused on women working on the assembly line during World War II called “Rosie.” He’s a familiar face to the student actors and a welcome support for Sara who is managing the cast of energetic teenagers working to memorize lines.

The actors are practicing accents, learning about theater, and building relationships with one another. It’s clear that even in the often challenging social dynamics of high school, these students have found their niche. This is the result of teachers like Sara and Nathan who dedicate their time and energy to ensure every student has the space to explore their passions.

During a quick break in rehearsal, Nathan gets up, grabs his notebook and heads upstairs to check in on the teacher who’s teaching history in his classroom while he serves as local president. His day won’t be over until he’s responded to the last text, email, or phone call from a member in need, typically after 8 p.m. Tomorrow he’ll do it all over again, because that’s what it takes to serve as a local president.

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