A plan to reposition three of Sitka’s school principals has been scaled back after intense public pressure.
Sitka High School’s principal, however, will be returning to her former job as assistant principal at the middle school.
And in the district office, the co-assistant superintendents are leaving their jobs.
Note: Read detailed responses to public concerns over the repositioning of Sitka’s school principals from Superintendent Mary Wegner and School Board President Elias Erickson.
Administrative shakeups aren’t that unusual in school districts, but it became clear early on to Superintendent Mary Wegner that the optics of this one weren’t looking too good.
“There was a lot of concern in the community and in staff that, because there wasn’t any closure this year because of covid, that it was too much to be thinking about moving a lot of principals,” said Wegner.
Wegner herself will be leaving the district at the end of June to take a job with the University of Alaska in Juneau, causing some to wonder why Wegner didn’t simply recommend changes to incoming interim superintendent John Holst. But the close of one school year is when principals sign their contracts for the next. Holst participated in the conversations with the school administrators, and supports Wegner’s strategy.
“I’ve been part of that conversation all the way through,” he said.
The motive for moving principals around will sound familiar to followers of school board politics: Closing the achievement gap. That’s the difference in performance between Native Alaskan and non-Native students, which has been at the top of the board’s priorities for years. Holst says a building principal’s knowledge of instructional theory — or even personality — can affect the achievement gap.
Putting people in the right position to do their best work and to help the board reach its goals,” he said.
In the end, the plan was scaled back, and only Sitka High principal Laura Rogers will be changing buildings, and returning to her former job as assistant principal at Blatchley Middle School.
Superintendent Wegner says the move is not a demotion.
“We’ve had a number of conversations, and this was a strength-based placement decision,” she said. “Laura has been there before. She has been very successful. She’s done great job at Sitka High School. This isn’t about performance, this is really about leveraging specific strengths that Laura brings to the work.”
Sitka High assistant principal Sondra Lundvick will take the principal’s job at Sitka High, and the district will open applications for her assistant.
In a move unrelated to the building principal shift, the district may also be opening applications for assistant superintendent.
The husband-and-wife team of Phil Burdick and Sarah Ferrency has shared the job for the last five years. The school board narrowly passed over the couple this spring to serve as interim superintendents for the next school year; both have decided to move on.
Phil Burdick will return to Pacific High to teach English, where he began his career in the district.
“You know, for the last five years it has just been a complete honor to work with the staff of the school district,” said Burdick. “The teachers have been open and willing to think about their practice, and shift it — for kids, for families.”
Although none of this news — the principal shakeup or the administrative vacancy in the district office — was officially made public, word got out anyway. School board president Elias Erickson said he personally fielded at least one-hundred emails from concerned members of the public. He says he supports the superintendent’s efforts to arrive at a solution for the building principals that works for the district.
As for the Burdick/Ferrency team, he’s glad their talent and expertise remains close at hand.
“It’s very normal for the assistant superintendent to turn over along with the superintendent, when these kind of changes happen,” said Erickson. “And it’s not like they’re going far. To me, as long as Phil and Sarah are working in education, they are doing good for students. You don’t see two people who have their hearts in it for people more than Phil and Sarah.”
Incoming interim superintendent John Holst says he’s not ready yet to talk about replacing Burdick and Ferrency. In any case, he doesn’t start work until July 1. “We’re still in a transition time,” he said.