The Juneau School District is another step closer to finding a superintendent. Of 65 total applicants for the position, the school board interviewed three semi-finalists Saturday. Around 60 members of the public attended. All three were advanced to the final phase of the selection process. They are school administrators in California, Texas and Hoonah.
The public got to interact with the three candidates during a community meet and greet Sunday afternoon at Savikko Park. Parents, teachers, school administrators, board members, community members and a few students all waited their turn to have a few minutes of one-on-one time with the finalists. A steady rotation of people filled the Savikko Park shelter for two hours.
Angie Lunda is finishing her third year as superintendent of the Hoonah School District and says she’s ready to come home to Juneau. Lunda was born and raised in Juneau and spent 22 years in the school district as a teacher at Floyd Dryden Middle School and principal at Gastineau Elementary School.
She says her years as a teacher is one of the biggest strengths she would bring to the superintendent position.
“I still think of myself as a teacher. I think of the hard work that teachers do. They’re on the front lines. They’re the ones doing the hard work. I think administrators need to remember what it is to be a teacher and I have that,” Lunda says.
Hoonah School District has 104 students. Juneau has about 4,800. Lunda knows there will be challenges running a bigger school district but says running a smaller one with a limited staff gives her a unique perspective.
“I wear most of the hats of most of the roles in central office – special education director, director of curriculum and assessment, federal programs director – so I really have had the opportunity to do all of those jobs in the district,” Lunda says. “While in Juneau, there are other people doing those jobs, by having done them myself, I truly understand them to a depth that I don’t think anybody else could just stepping in.”
For finalist Mark Miller, Juneau School District is smaller than what he’s used to. Miller is Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources in Hayward Unified School District in California. He describes it as a large urban school district with 21,000 students in 32 schools.
He’s held various positions in education and says his broad range of experiences is his biggest strength.
“I’ve done human resources for the last decade, so a lot of negotiation, a lot of contract language, some of the legal stuff that’s involved with that, as well as handling the tough personnel issues, which unfortunately come up from time to time. I also know what it’s like to run a high school. I know what it’s like to be an assistant principal. And then my first love will always be teaching. I spent 11 years in the classroom teaching kids chemistry and physics,” Miller says.
This would be Miller’s first superintendent position.
“I think the job of the superintendent is to make sure that the mission and vision of the school board is in line with the needs of the community. That’s the job. That’s the liaison. That’s the relationship that needs to occur,” he says.
Miller has three grown children and, if he got the job, would be moving to Juneau by himself. This is his first time in Alaska and he says he feels honored to be a superintendent finalist.
Candidate Rick Williams first visited Juneau five years ago with his wife. They live in McKinney, Texas, and Williams is Director of Administrative Services in Region 10 Education Service Center. His division provides training and support for administrators in 80 different school districts.
He highlights his previous experience as a principal and superintendent.
“I have a lot of experience in strategic planning, a lot of teamwork activities, camaraderie, which all ends up elevating student achievement. Texas has a system just like Alaska where your schools are actually rated based on your test scores. We were able to significantly increase scores not only at the high school level as a high school principal but as a superintendent as well,” Williams says.
He favors small classrooms, but says it’s determined by how much money a district has to spend.
“Even though you might be in favor of small classrooms, if you don’t have enough money to hire enough teachers, that’s going to dictate the number of teachers you can hire. You do what you can with the amount of money that you have allocated,” Williams says.
If hired, Williams plans to move to Juneau with his wife and two children who would join the school district.
A tough decision
School board member Barbara Thurston was one of several board members at the meet and greet. She says choosing a superintendent from the pool of three will be a tough decision. One thing the board is looking for is someone who can build trust in the community.
“Somebody that people can say, ‘Boy, I don’t like this decision, but I think this person has the best interest of our children at heart and they’re doing the best they can and I’ll just live with it.’ It’s not trivial to build that,” Thurston says.
Thurston says she’s trying to keep an open mind for the remainder of the selection process, and, of the three candidates, doesn’t have a favorite yet.
Superintendent finalist interviews start at 1 p.m. Monday at Thunder Mountain High School library. The public is invited to attend and submit written comments to the school board. The board plans to make a final decision Monday afternoon or Tuesday.