John Holst, pictured here in 2012, has served many roles in Sitka: School superintendent, assembly member, and as a director appointed by the board of Sheldon Jackson College to oversee the disposal of the institution’s assets. Although he last worked as a superintendent in Sitka 19 years ago, he’s been an educational consultant and professional mentor for new superintendents since that time. Regarding his appointment to head the Sitka School District, he told KCAW “I have one good year left to give Sitka.” (KCAW photo/Ed Ronco)

The Sitka School Board has named John Holst to serve as interim superintendent for the next school year (2020-21).

The decision came after another extended special meeting, mostly held out of public view.



John Holst lives in Sitka, but he was at his second home in Boise, Idaho, when he learned that he’d been offered the job as the interim superintendent of Sitka’s schools.

Holst last worked as superintendent for the district 19 years ago — but he’s been an active educational consultant since then, including work over the last five years mentoring new superintendents in Alaska.

“I have to tell you, I so enjoyed it,” said Holst. “It was so professionally rewarding, I guess is the best way to say it — probably as rewarding as anything I’ve ever been involved in — to help somebody that’s starting out to keep it between the white lines, and to be able to get through that first year without any real serious blunders.”

Mentoring superintendents became Holst’s profession accidentally, when he was hired five years ago by the school district in Denali to serve as interim superintendent. His permanent replacement was completely new to the work, so Holst fell naturally into the role of mentor.

He says the job has kept him current, and equipped him to take up the reins in the Sitka School District, despite his long absence.

“During the time that I’ve been mentoring these new superintendents, I’ve gotten a real good flavor for what’s going on in the state,” he said. “I’ve been away from the district, but I haven’t been away from education at all during that time.”

Holst was superintendent in Sitka from 1993 to 2001. He says his most memorable moment was starting work the day after the Alaska Pulp Corporation mill announced it was closing.

Current Sitka Superintendent Mary Wegner submitted her resignation to the board in early March, effective at the end of June. Working under the assumption that a full search for a replacement would take 10 weeks, the Sitka School Board decided to move quickly to hire an interim to serve for the next academic year.

Only four candidates applied for the job, two of whom subsequently withdrew their names. By the time of the board’s special meeting on April 1, the decision had come down to Holst, or current co-assistant superintendents Sarah Ferrency and Phil Burdick.

The board passed over the husband-and-wife team. In announcing the board’s decision to hire Holst, president Elias Erickson acknowledged that it was a difficult choice.

“To say we were highly impressed with both candidates was an understatement,” said Erickson. “And after this process, as well as witnessing the handling of the current COVID-19 crisis, we have come to value the work that Phil and Sarah do in their positions as co-assistant superintendents to an even greater degree.”

Erickson went on to suggest that the board felt Holst would be a good addition to what is already an exceptional district office staff.

“The board trusts Mr. Holst’s sense of professionalism, and his ability to capitalize on the strengths of what is existing in their district office administrative team, and what they have to bring to the table,” he said.

The board broke with the usual custom in Sitka, and conducted its candidate interviews, and most of its deliberations on the hire, in executive session — spending at least four hours behind closed doors over the course of two evening meetings (March 30 and April 1).  In a subsequent conversation with KCAW, board president Erickson said that the proposed contract terms with John Holst were somewhat atypical, and time-consuming to work out.

Erickson said that contract negotiations with Holst were ongoing.

Once he returns to Sitka, Holst told KCAW his first task on the job will be a series of meetings with outgoing superintendent Mary Wegner.