Many students arriving at school today in Sitka (8-27-15) were greeted by familiar faces — but in new roles. Both of Sitka’s high schools have new principals, both of whom have spent years in the classroom.
Here’s the complete picture of the administrative team in the Sitka School District this year: Superintendent Mary Wegner is back for her second year, while former Pacific High co-principals Sarah Ferrency and Phil Burdick now share the role of assistant superintendent. Sondra Lundvick will remain as assistant principal of Sitka High, working with Lyle Sparrowgrove. Lindsay Jorgenson is the new Activities Director. Ben White is continuing as principal of Blatchley Middle School; he’ll be assisted by Laura Rodgers, who’s moving to Sitka from New Hampshire. Casey Demmert is now the most-senior principal in the district; he’ll continue at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary. Mark Lee will remain as principal of Baranof Elementary School. Pacific High will be headed by Mandy Summer, and Summer’s old job, as director of Community Schools, will be handled by district business manager Cassee Olin, until Community Schools is turned over to a private contractor in October.
She moved from Oregon to join Sitka’s alternative high school, teaching English and Health for four years. Last year, she jumped into administration, performing double-duty as assistant principal of Blatchley Middle School and director of Community Schools.
Mandy Summer says returning to Pacific High is a homecoming.
“The way that we see education, and the way that we deliver education here at Pacific High is very intrinsic to my being — to how I’ve always taught and to how I’ve always learned.”
Enrollment at Pacific High is limited to around 40 students. Some are there because they haven’t had success in traditional public schools; others seek out the school’s alternative approach to education. Summer says her background at Pacific High taught her to look at the whole student.
“There were times, as a teacher, where I recognized that it’s much more important to focus on a student’s needs than — socially or behaviorally what they need in their life — than on writing that essay or passing that test. And that’s really what Pacific High is all about.”
Summer is replacing two people. Her predecessors, Phil Burdick and Sarah Ferrency, job-shared for five years as co-principals at Pacific High before moving into district administration. Summer says that although she’s only one person, she doesn’t feel like a solo act. She describes the school as a collaboration among all staff, administration — and even students.
If anything, Summer would like to see students step outside themselves even more.
“You know, one thing that’s always been an important as a teacher and as just a part of my life is providing service. I think that’s one way to get at the hearts of students. To get at their heads, we get at their hearts. I have seen some students really blossom when they have been a part of something much bigger than themselves.”
But not every teacher is eager to move into the top job — at least that was the case this year at Sitka High.
“I originally said no.”
Lyle Sparrowgrove will take over as principal at Sitka’s traditional high school. But he’s not as reluctant as he sounds. He reconsidered, after thinking about the students, families, and staff that make a school.
“The other part is I’m not doing it alone, I’m doing it with all those people together, attempting to make the high school principal’s position sustainable.”
Sparrowgrove understands sustainability. He taught Math for 13 years at Blatchley, beginning in 1987, before becoming assistant principal and activities director at the high school in 2000. After four years in that job, Sparrowgrove returned to the Math classroom until his retirement in 2009.
It’s not a natural transition to move from career teacher to administrator, but Sparrowgrove understands that “it all happens in the classroom.” He knows firsthand that good teaching can turn a student’s life around.
“I was not a good math student. I got excited when I had a quality instructor at the college level. I wanted the kids to feel the passion and exuberance I felt about learning math, because I’m sure there’s other things they would rather have been doing.”
Sparrowgrove describes the last six years as “quasi-retirement.” He’s been active as a consultant, working with the district to develop new Math curriculum across all grade levels. But, he says the social aspect of school is very important, and he misses that.
And he also thinks he’s got some ideas to offer, as schools evolve along with the needs of students.
“Education has been very good to me over the years. And I feel like, to be able to continue to have education improve and grow we need to give back to it. And this is one of those ways.”
Lyle Sparrowgrove will replace Karen Macklin,who stepped in last year to cover the resignation of former principal PJ Ford-Slack.
The first day of school in Sitka is Thursday, August 27.