Three finalists vying for the title of superintendent of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District participated in a virtual Q&A with District Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff on Monday to talk about their interest in the role, which they would be asked to assume in a couple of months.
Dr. Jason Johnson, Clayton Holland and Janelle Vanasse have been identified as finalists for the position by the KPBSD Board of Education.
Johnson, who holds a Doctorate Degree in Education from Trevecca Nazarene University and currently serves as the superintendent of the Dillingham School District, said that good leadership is all about making the district a community where staff and students feel like they belong.
Holland holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Alaska Anchorage and has worked at KPBSD for more than 20 years, during which time he said he thinks the community has learned they can trust him. Holland currently serves as the district’s assistant superintendent.
Vanasse holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Alaska Anchorage, is expected to graduate in May with a Doctorate of Education from Gonzaga University and currently serves as the superintendent of Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka.
Erkeneff emphasized the diversity of the school district, which serves 42 schools in 17 communities, including Native and Russian villages, some that can only be accessed via boat or plane and K-12 schoolhouses.
“I think that’s actually a beautiful thing and a strength of the district …” said Johnson. “When I look just at the key opportunities in education as a whole, I think there’s a phenomenal opportunity to bring creativity back into the classroom and further personalize that learning experience for our kids.”
Holland said that ensuring that the district is culturally responsive to the needs of different communities can be done by adding cultural relevance into their strategic plan.
“I’m acutely aware of what our district has in diversity,” Holland said, adding that he has been to all 42 KPBSD schools. “We also have some neat programs that we do that I want people to know about.”
Vanasse said that being socially and culturally responsive is something that the district needs to work on every day and that the district should value the learning students do outside of school.
“The education our students bring into our schools — that education from their family, their culture, their experiences, their belief systems — that’s really valuable,” Vanasse said. “As we partner with families and communities to provide our school-based education, it’s important that we recognize and value this other education our students come in the door with.”
Erkeneff also asked the candidates why they think they are the best candidate for the superintendent position.
Johnson said that he would be a leader who is invested in the community, who is energetic and who is compassionate as evidenced by the current strategic plan he has helped implement in the Dillingham School District, which emphasizes social and emotional learning.
“What we learned quickly is if we talked about it, it didn’t really happen,” Johnson said. “When we put it on paper and we started accountability, things took off like a rocket and that’s what I’m really excited about.”
Holland said that he is team-oriented and that he was able to assume a strong leadership position when the district’s current superintendent, John O’Brien, was out due to health reasons. Holland said he thought that the transition from O’Brien to him went well and that one of his biggest tasks was creating a plan to get students back in school amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have a great community; we have wonderful staff,” Holland said. “I think they need somebody new in charge and it’s nothing against anybody else … but I do have a different way of leading.”
Vanasse said that she thinks her experience and her vision is a good fit for KPBSD.
“I believe I can come in and build the culture of shared learning and leadership for continued improvement, a culture in which we can work together to identify opportunities to serve students better, to value our diversity, to capitalize on that uniqueness and be honest with ourselves when there’s work to be done,” Vanasse said.
Members of the community were encouraged to provide their feedback on the three candidates following the Q&As via surveys on the school district’s website, which closes Tuesday at 8 a.m.
The KPBSD Board of Education will interview the three candidates individually beginning Tuesday at 10:15 a.m. during a special meeting.
Videos of Monday’s Q&A sessions can be viewed on the school district’s website.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at email@example.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Clayton Holland holds a masters degree from the University of Southern Indiana. Holland received a masters degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage.