Juneau’s newest principal says he’s excited to head back into classrooms

Shawn Arnold poses in front of a white board
Shawn Arnold has been selected to be the next principal of Thunder Mountain High School. (Photo by Bridget Dowd/KTOO)

The Juneau School District has chosen Shawn Arnold to be the next principal of Thunder Mountain High School. Arnold is the current director of student services for the school district. In that role, he manages the district’s special education program as well as counseling and student activities. 

KTOO’s Bridget Dowd sat down with Arnold to find out what he plans to accomplish in this new role. 

Listen here:

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Bridget Dowd: So, let’s start out with some of your experience in education. This was your first year with the Juneau School District. What did you do before this?

Shawn Arnold: Before coming to Juneau, I was a superintendent for three years in Valdez, Alaska. Prior to that, I was superintendent for the school district up in Nome, Alaska. And then prior to that, I was a teacher, principal and district administrator in Mat-Su. And that’s where I kind of spent most of my education career.

Bridget Dowd: How would you say those roles have prepared you for this position?

Shawn Arnold: I think I was a good principal. I moved into the district office and oversaw several other principals and some of the high schools in Mat-Su. I learned a lot. As the years went by, I just had more and more experiences on all aspects there of our student learning and district operations, how all the pieces in the education system kind of fit together. I understand from a school standpoint, how it fits into the larger role and goals of a school district, how the schools that feed into, you know, a higher level of school — so, how the middle schools impact the high schools with what they’re doing and how they fit together. I’ve just grown in my experience. I still have a lot more to learn. We’re always learning. But I feel like everything has kind of prepared me for this.

Bridget Dowd: Do you have any kids enrolled in JSD?

Shawn Arnold: No, no kids. My wife is a teacher here. She’s an elementary teacher, and it’ll be great to be able to be on a similar schedule as my wife, too. It’s been a long time since we’ve had the same schedules. 

Bridget Dowd: How much time have you spent inside Thunder Mountain High School, and how familiar are you with those students?

Shawn Arnold: My office and my department is located at Thunder Mountain, and so I’ve had really a great opportunity over this last school year. You know, every day, I’m in the building. I’ve gotten to know the staff and the students, and that was part of me that, you know — what attracted the position is I was familiar with it. And I thought that I’d love to be a part of that team. And I’d love to be part of that school. It’s a great school, and it was something I just wanted to jump into and be a part of.

Bridget Dowd: I know you had a chance to talk to parents and other stakeholders throughout the hiring process for this position. What kinds of concerns have you heard from them, and how do you plan to address those?

Shawn Arnold: One of the concerns that parents have is staff shortages. Not that we have shortages in the building now, but they’re worried about the trend of teachers leaving the profession and they want assurance in making sure that we have the best teachers in the building for their kids. As the building principal, it’s something that’s going to fall on me to make sure that we support the teachers that are there. But when we do have openings, to make sure we get the best ones available and get them in the classrooms.

Bridget Dowd: I spoke to a Thunder Mountain teacher last week. She talked about how difficult COVID-19 has been for families and school staff alike. Do you have any plans for how to strengthen relationships with families and work together on those issues?

Shawn Arnold: Yeah, it’s — it’s been difficult the past two years. In my various roles I see it in the staff, I see it in the kids. I know that it’s been wearing for our parents. Hopefully here soon, we can put much of the impact of the pandemic behind us. The big thing is not necessarily a return to normalcy, but it’s reestablishing those traditions, the things that were successful before. Part of it is school spirit and school pride. We haven’t been able to do assemblies, pep rallies, bringing the kids together, and building on that — allowing them to, kind of, communicate and see each other face to face. Also, there are a few things that we learned during the pandemic, and I know that Thunder Mountain was very successful at, with some blended learning, offering some hybrid options, and some of those we might build upon and kind of keep.

Bridget Dowd: Why did you want to be the principal at Thunder Mountain?

Shawn Arnold: I think, at its essence, it’s working with kids and with teachers. I really enjoyed my time in the classroom. I think I was a pretty good teacher, and I really enjoyed leading buildings before. Being in district administration has been rewarding in its own ways, but I’ve missed my daily interactions with students and staff. Often, you don’t go from superintendent to director to a principal, but it’s [a job] that I’m really happy to do. 

Bridget Dowd: Is there anything else you’d like to say about the position, or that you want the community to know?

Shawn Arnold: I look forward to the opportunity and the trust that’s been given to me to lead Thunder Mountain. It hasn’t been around a whole long time, just over 10 years, but already built kind of a special culture and climate. [I’m looking forward to] expanding on that, and getting the opportunity to make it stronger is just something I’m excited for — jumping into the new school year refreshed and energized. I think it’s gonna be a good time and a good year for everyone.

Bridget Dowd: Alright, that’s Shawn Arnold, the newly appointed principal of Thunder Mountain High School in Juneau. Shawn, thanks so much for taking the time today.

Shawn Arnold: Yeah, thank you!

Bridget Dowd

Local News Reporter

I keep tabs on what’s happening in Juneau’s classrooms for the families they serve and the people who work in them. My goal is to shine a light on both stories of success and the cracks that need to be filled, because I believe a good education is the basis of a strong community.

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