Mendenhall River Community School is getting a new principal, and the decision could be in soon.
A panel consisting of City and Borough of Juneau District staff, administrators and site council members publicly interviewed two candidates for the position Thursday.
“We’re hopeful that the decision will be made and communicated this week,” said Ted VanBronkhorst, a retired human resources director for the district, who facilitated the interviews. “But we don’t know that for sure. It’s possible it could take until Monday before a decision will be made.”
The two candidates separately interviewed for the position were Nathan Coutsoubos, currently a principal for White Pass Elementary School in Randle, Washington, and Kelley Harvey, currently a Title 1 teacher for Harborview Elementary School.
Harvey has 20 years of teaching experience in the Juneau School District, including a decade at Mendenhall River Community School as a classroom teacher, English as a second language teacher, literacy leader and reading coach.
Coutsoubos has been a principal in Washington since July 2016. He was previously a teacher for six years in Dillingham, a math tutor for Joy Elementary School in Fairbanks and a biologist and environmental scientist for nine years.
Each would-be principal was tasked with answering the same 14 questions from the panel in 50 minutes, and each candidate started off answering why they want the principal job and how their background makes them qualified.
“When the position here opened up … it was like perfect everything,” Harvey said. “Everything really fell into place. I love it here. I love the staff. It would kind of be like coming home for me.”
Coutsoubos said he would welcome a return to Alaska from Washington and he knew the district and school by reputation.
“As you all know, the place gets in your bones, and we’ve been looking for the right opportunity, if there is one, to head back north,” Coutsoubos said. “From my days out in Bristol Bay, believe it or not, this school, I heard, has a good rep. I know that Juneau schools have a good rep overall.”
The candidates were also asked how they would manage scenarios in which the school found itself shorthanded or in which students or staff were creating problems, things they would prioritize during their first year and why they should be hired.
Both candidates stressed the importance of communication among a school’s staff as well as between educators and parents.
They also spoke in their own ways about how they would address questions they heard during a public meet-and-greet event Wednesday.
“The questions I was receiving from teachers were the same questions I was getting from parents — they revolved around school climate and behavior,” Harvey said. “To me that’s where I would start. I feel like there’s a lot of healing that needs to take place and a lot of support that’s needed. The focus for me would be taking a look at that behavior piece and putting some systems in place. Some are not a hard fix.”
Coutsoubos said his previous experience has him ready to address those same concerns.
“Should you decide to hire me, I’d be coming from a spot where I think there was a parallel for what’s needed here. … Talking to staff, I didn’t hear about instruction. It was more about how the staff talks to each other and more about culture. I’m coming from a place, where I’m eyeballs deep in that stuff.”
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.