The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

New principal hired for VHS without public input

Need for speed in hiring administrator and principal gives public little notice


This is breaking news:

An email from Dr. Lisa Stroh, outgoing superintendent of Valdez City Schools Tuesday night announced the committee formed to hire a new principal for Valdez High School offered the job to a candidate, Rod Schug of Yukutat, after a what was billed as a "preliminary interview."

The email stated Schug, who is the current superintendent of the Yakutat School District, accepted the job.

His contract and final hiring will depend on a special board meeting Stroh said will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, May 2.

The board of education was told a very different synopsis of the interview process during its regular meeting Monday night. The following story was published around 4 p.m. April 29.

Haste was the word Monday night when the board of education set today, as in Wednesday, April 30, as the date for interviews and a public “meet and greet” for the candidates hoping to become the new interim superintendent of Valdez City Schools.

The board will interview the candidates, Rod Schug, superintendent of the Yukutat school district and Jim Nygaard from the Cordova district, at the district office for Valdez City Schools.

The names of the two interim superintendent candidates were made public for the first time at Monday’s meeting.

The interviews were set for Wednesday because Schug was also participating in what has been termed a preliminary interview Tuesday for principal of Valdez High School.

A second candidate for high school principal was also slated for a preliminary interview but not named at the meeting.

This information was also not made public before Monday’s meeting, taking some board members aback.

The Valdez Star confirmed Tuesday morning the second VHS candidate in the preliminary interview is Lea Cockerham, a long-time social studies and history teacher in the district, who is also the Buccaneer football coach.

Cockerham has job-shadowed outgoing principal Dr. Elizabeth Balcerek this school year as a final step in obtaining his principal credentials.

Tuesday morning, just before going to press, the district’s outgoing superintendent, Dr. Lisa Stroh, sent an email stating: Our interviews for high school principal will be today. The interview committee just met and as a group, they decided that if one candidate is clearly the committee's choice that we offer the job to that person and forego having him/her come back next week for a meet and greet with the community. I value the community's opinion, but we don't want to miss out on a candidate because another district gets them before next week.

The principal position at Valdez High School became open earlier this year after Balcerek announced she would not seek a third-year option on her contract.

Last week, Balcerek was named the new principal of Bethel Regional High School, where she will work under her old boss, Jacob Jensen.

Jensen was superintendent of Valdez City Schools for three years, 2011-2013, before heading to the same position in the Lower Kuskokwim School District.

This Wednesday, candidates to replace Chris Bennett as principal of Hermon Hutchens Elementary School will interview with an appointed committee via Skype.

Bennett resigned his position at the elementary school effective the end of this school year and is heading for the Aleutians.

At Monday’s meeting Stroh said there were five potential candidates for Hermon Hutchens principal, and four for Valdez High School. The committees are expected to pare down the list of candidates to two or three for each school before in-person interviews are held in Valdez.

A public meet and greet for the elementary school principal are set for Tuesday, May 6 at 5 p.m. at the elementary school library.

The public will have the same opportunity to meet the VHS principal and interim superintendent candidates at that time.

The board of education had originally agreed to hire a national firm to head its search for a one year interim superintendent to take the reins of Valdez City Schools after current superintendent, Dr. Lisa Stroh, asked the board to approve an early release from her two-year contract, contingent on whether or not she was hired elsewhere, after she was shortlisted as a candidate for the superintendent’s position in Petersburg.

Stroh was hired in Petersburg and the board felt the timeline for hiring a new superintendent was too short for Valdez to find the right person to permanently fill the spot, especially with the transitions taking place in the district.

A firm was also to be contracted to find a permanent superintendent after the FY14/15 school year.

The board reversed course and instead decided to hire AASB, the Alaska Association of School Boards, AASB, as it has done with its last three hires, including Stroh, Jensen, and Lance Bowie.

There was no shortage of candidates tossing their names in the hat for the interim position.

“Overall, there have been 15 applicants” for interim superintendent, Dawn Farmer, board vice-president, said. “They have sent us the top two.”

The board, by consensus, agreed to bring the new interim administrator on board as soon as possible.

Valdez City Schools underwent a number of personnel changes under Stroh and will see many more in the coming months, with new positions opening up under the new budget and positions open due to resignations are slowly being filled. More changes are on the horizon - especially with the middle school students moving from borrowed classrooms at the elementary to a brand new school slated to open September 2.

With the short timeline, board members discussed how independent investigation of the candidates will be performed by board members.

“I just think we need to investigate more than has been in the past,” board member Joe Prax said.

The search for a permanent superintendent will begin this fall.

“The permanent superintendent search will be much slower,” Farmer said.

“And sooner,” chimed in board member Dr. Kathy Todd.


Reader Comments

Editor writes:

I'm sorry, but this is a grave disservice to the public. It is also the opposite of what the public and the Valdez Star were led to believe would be a more public process. While we're sure Mr. Schug is a fine gentleman and capable administrator (I don't believe I've ever met him and am not qualified or informed enough to make a judgment of any kind) the district receives an F- for lack of candor and transparency in this hiring process.


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