Kari Dendurent and Eric Pederson came to teach in Homer as part of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District at the same time. It seems only fitting that they should move on together, too.
Dendurent, principal at Homer Middle School, has been selected as the next assistant superintendent for the school district. Pegge Erkeneff, director of communications, community, and government relations for the district, explained that when Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones retires at the end of this school year, the district will consolidate its current two assistant superintendent positions into one. The district’s other current assistant superintendent, Clayton Holland, has been named the new incoming superintendent to replace John O’Brien.
Pederson, principal of Paul Banks Elementary School, has accepted a position as the new director of elementary education for the school district. Both he and Dendurent start their new jobs on July 1, after finishing out this school year at Homer Middle and Paul Banks. Dendurent will move to the Kasilof area, while Pederson and his family will remain in Homer while he splits his time between the Cosmic Hamlet and the district office in Soldotna.
“It’s exciting to select two excellent internal candidates to serve at the district level leadership,” Erkeneff wrote in an email.
Originally from Wisconsin, Pederson came to work in Alaska in 2000, staring off in the Lower Kuskokwim School District. Both he and Dendurent have worked for KPBSD for the last eight years.
“Never in my career have I ever said I want to aspire to district office level,” Pederson said.
He’s just always loved being a principal.
“It is the best job I’ve ever had,” he said.
Watching the landscape of education in Alaska change in front of him is part of what prompted Pederson to apply for a district-level position.
“We have some tough decisions ahead of us,” he said. “And so I found myself constantly at this spot of, I can sit and watch things happen … or I can use my experience and be part of the solution to part of the challenges in front of us.”
Another reason is that Pederson said he feels it’s time for another principal to bring their own leadership to Paul Banks.
“As a principal there comes a time when someone else can bring something to round another edge off, and make Paul Banks even greater,” he said.
Pederson has worked more closely with district leadership over the last few years. Both he and Dendurent served on the task force that created the district’s Smart Start plan for reopening school during the pandemic. Pederson has also gained statewide experience as part of the Alaska Association of Elementary School Principals. He was previously president of AAESP and in 2020 was named Alaska’s National Distinguished Principal by the organization.
Ever since the pandemic arrived in Alaska, the collaboration and work between principals across the state, the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development, and medical professionals has increased, Pederson said.
Looking ahead to his new role, Pederson said he’s grateful to be able to bring the perspective of a southern Kenai Peninsula educator to the district office. Both he and Dendurent acknowledged that the three major regions of the school district can be very different.
“We’re both aware that there’s a different mindset for our three different hubs,” he said.
That includes bringing representation for the schools across Kachemak Bay and at the head of the bay, he said.
One of Pederson’s biggest goals at director of elementary education will be establishing and keeping trust. He said some of that trust may have been lost over the last difficult and challenging year.
“I believe in public school,” he said. “And I feel like we’re on the cusp. We’ve had a crisis. And every interaction, you can increase or decrease trust.”
Leaving Paul Banks will be “bittersweet,” Pederson said, because the staff there has felt more like family.
“This staff and this community and these parents have been unbelievable,” he said. “And they’ve taught me so much.”
For Dendurent, the move to become assistant superintendent brings the added hardship of leaving Homer, which she described as her “little slice of heaven.”
Dendurent first came to Alaska in 1981, where she graduated from Houston Junior/Senior High School. She went Outside after graduation and ended up living in Florida for 16 years, but Alaska eventually called her back. Dendurent moved to the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and got a job in 2010 as assistant principal of Palmer High School, which was cut due to falling enrollment. That’s when she landed back at the very school she graduated from, as assistant principal of Houston.
Coming to Homer and KPBSD in the 2013-14 school year with Pederson and a handful of others, Dendurent has spent the last few years also making a name for herself and her school. Homer Middle has been named a Blue Ribbon School under her tenure, and Dendurent was named Region III Principal of the Year by the Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals in 2016 and 2019.
Dendurent cited her work on the Kenai Peninsula School Activities Association over the last three years as one of her bigger levels of involvement at the district level. She’s also been on the legislative committee for the school district, and got a lot of experience interpreting policy and coordinating with other educators from across the state as part of the Smart Start COVID-19 task force.
Dendurent said she sees the move to the district office as professional growth. Now at Homer Middle for eight years, Dendurent said this was the second year the school has seen 100% teacher retention.
“I wasn’t sure what else I really could be doing differently for moving the school forward,” she said.
The district previously had an assistant superintendent of instruction, and an assistant superintendent of operations. There will now be only one assistant superintendent and those extra duties will be redistributed. Dendurent noted that this new structure will bring people from different district department from IT to special education together more.
Her goal as assistant superintendent is to make sure all district schools and all students are afforded the same opportunities, she said. A student at Cooper Landing School should have the same opportunity to do something like take an AP class as a student at Soldotna High School, for example.
Ensuring this equity could also involve looking at different regions of the district to see whether they need more workforce education opportunities that fit that region, Dendurent said, like marine trades training in Homer and Seward.
Another focus will be exploring how the district can improve as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. Dendurent said she’d be interested in expanding virtual learning and making it a quality districtwide option even beyond the pandemic.