Summary: Three candidates interviewed for the opening Thunder Mountain High School principal position. Candidates from Nome, Juneau and Texas interviewed.
Morrow said he’s old school in evaluating his staff, and he can tell within five minutes of walking into a classroom whether someone is a good teacher.
He said talking with teachers regularly is an important part of evaluation, and he does not want a formal evaluation on paper to be the first time a teacher receives feedback.
This is shaping up to be another interview that creeps up to its deadline.
“Strengths are, No. 1 the diversity of the school,” Morrow said. “The swimming and the diving and the robotics. The academics. This is a very good school.”
“We could improve some,” Morrow said before knocking on the the table.
He specifically cited PEAKS math scores.
Morrow said he’s been involved in writing safety plans for multiple high schools.
He said he’s been through many safety situations, including an escaped convict triggered a lockdown.
“It was a real lockdown,” he said. “We drill regularly. I’m a big believer, I coached for all those years, you practice like you play.”
“I’ve had lots of those,” Morrow said of conflicts. “It comes with the territory.”
He said how he responds depends on context.
“The first thing I’m going to do is, I’m going to listen,” Morrow said. “Sometimes if you sit there and listen, that’s half the battle.”
He said handling a conflict with students can be a million different things.
“Kids are easy for me, it’s why I do what I do,” Morrow said. “Even the toughest kids, we end up getting along.”
Morrow said he is sensitive to a change in administration can be stressful for staff.
“I know as a teacher, they are probably freaking out right now,” Morrow said.
He said since he has twice come in as the lead administrator for high schools, he feels he has experience to make it a smooth transition.
“The worst thing you can do is come in and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this and this and this,’ because you’re going to scare the kids and put off the staff,” Morrow said.
He said his strategy would work to be as visible to staff and students as possible and is an open book.
“There’s always at least one that is really unhappy with the decision that you make,” Morrow said.
He said his first priority is always what’s best for students.
“I have been wanting to come to Alaska for forever,” Morrow said. “There was never a good time. We finally decided, my wife and I this summer, that we are going to come to Alaska regardless.”
He said he quit his job in September and the only thing that’s undecided is where in the state he will end up.
Morrow said he’s a Mountain Dew and water guy, and that’s what keeps him going.
“The demands that are always asked of you are what makes the job fun,” he said. “Ultimately the reason any of us are here, or any of you are sitting in the room, is we all love kids. I just take it day by day and situation by situation.”
He said he does not sleep much and goes to games, concerts and other activities.
Morrow is introducing himself to the interview panel, and things are gearing up for the last of the morning’s interviews.
Between Dowell, who said he spent about 20 years “crossing through Arkansas,” and Morrow this is by far the most twang I’ve heard in a public meeting since I covered a handful of cities in South Carolina.
Steve Morrow, principal for Whitewright High School, will interview in 15 minutes. The high school is located in Whitewright, Texas, which is located in northeastern Texas to the north of Fort Worth and southeast of Oklahoma City.
“I would really like it noted this is a job I am serious about, and I am excited about,” Germain said.
The interview finished exactly on time.
Germain said TMHS has a strong culture and many positives.
“I don’t come in looking for weaknesses, you’re going to see what you’re looking for,” Germain said.
She said there are opportunities for growth and outside eyes and opinions can help find those.
“It is nice to invite the thought partner in,” Germain said.
When describing ALICE training, Germain said it’s important to consider the social and emotional health of participants. She said some find it empowering while others find it traumatic. She said the age of trainees is important, too.
“I’m not deputizing sixth-graders as vigilante ninjas,” Germain said.
This interview is scheduled to conclude at 10 a.m. It’s going to come down to the wire.
If a teacher approached Germain with an outside-of-the-curriculum idea, Germain said she would need to know the subject matter and the teacher’s history, but generally would try to be supportive.
Regarding conflict, Germain said she does not avoid crucial conversations in conflict but does prepare for them.
“Sometimes, you just have to have the awkward conversation,” Germain said. “I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong.”
Germain said when she was student teaching Sara Hannan, now a Democratic state representative, was her mentor teacher.
The key consideration for keeping staff and students safe is that safety — both physical and emotional safety — is important, Germain said.
Germain was asked how she would transition to leading a school that has a leadership team in place for a long time.
She said maintaining a positive culture would be her goal, and she would ask how to continue to support the existing team.
“There’s so much already in place that we’re not going to disrupt or shake-up,” Germain said.
She was asked how she makes tough decisions.
“I’ve had the opportunity to make tough decisions and balancing lots of things,” Germain said.
It comes down to core values and priorities, she said.
“When you have to make a tough decision, when it comes down to safety first, it’s safety first,” Germain said. “Yes, I do have core values. They all factor into my decision making.”
However, she said when possible, she’d like to bring tough decisions before a team.
“If there’s a tough decision, you just have to recognize it might not be popular with everyone, but there’s an opportunity for feedback and reflection afterward,” Germain said.
Regarding budget decisions, she said she would need to learn more about what TMHS currently does.
On the busy schedule a high school principal faces: “I know it’s hectic and demanding, and I’ve been doing that, and I’m coming in eyes-wide open to that, and I have a plan for how to be organized,” Germain said.
The advanced placement American government class has joined the audience for the interview.
Germain is detailing her extensive history with Juneau and the Juneau School District.
That includes being born and raised in Juneau, attending Juneau schools, teaching at JDHS, spending time as JDHS’ assistant principal and her current position.
“I have a depth of experience teaching at the high school level and recognizing where our eighth-graders are and how they’re coming in as ninth-graders,” Germain said.
She said she feels she’s been preparing for a principal position in ways, including familiarizing herself with the accreditation process.
The interview panelists are back in their seats and the interview is about to begin.
The first interview wrapped up fairly quickly. We have about 20 minutes until the next interviewee, who is scheduled to be DZ assistant principal Kristy Germain.
I caught up with Dowell after the interview and asked why he wants to be TMHS’ principal.
He said a large part of the appeal is Juneau.
“In Nome, I’m successful, but I’m looking for more opportunities for my kids,” Dowell said. “I think this is a place I can fit in.”
Dowell was asked about what he perceives as TMHS’ strengths and weaknesses.
He said, at a glance the school’s Performance Evaluation for Alaska’s Schools scores or good, but he would like to see improvement in the district’s special education program.
Dowell was asked to describe a conflict he’s had with a parent.
He said he could not think of a specific example off of the top of his head, but that he understands a lot of conflict arises because when parents send children to school, they are entrusting others to with “the best that they have.”
“That’s what I kind of down shift to, what would I want for my three kids?” Dowell said.
He said principals set the tone for a building.
“The attitude of the front office projects itself on the entire building,” Dowell said.
Key school safety considerations are now the topic of discussion.
Dowell said ALICE — Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate — or run-hide-fight training seem to be the most effective as is encouraging a culture of reporting.
“When a problem shows up at the front door, it’s already too late,” Dowell said. “We’ve got to take these indicators seriously.”
Budget restrictions are now the topic of discussion.
Dowell was asked how he would make budgetary decisions.
“I don’t think it’s as mysterious as some folks make it out to be,” Dowell said.
He said programs should be evaluated, and cost compared to results should be analyzed.
“What do we get the most mileage out of?” Dowell said.
He said money could then be “scaled off” less effective programs.
Dowell was asked what his first-year plan would be in taking over as principal for TMHS.
He said Thunder Mountain seems to be functional and not in need of a total overhaul.
“I would say with me coming in it’s more of a personality fit,” he said.
Three candidates for Thunder Mountain High School principal will this morning be interviewed.
They are Jon “Caen” Dowell, assistant principal for Nome-Beltz Junior/Senior High School; Kristine “Kristy” Germain, assistant principal for Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School; and Steve Morrow, principal for Whitewright High School.
Whitewright High School is located in Texas.
Current TMHS principal Dan Larson is retiring after this school year.
First up will be Dowell, who will be asked 13 questions over 50 minutes.