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

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Top spot still open at elementary school

District still looking after two candidates decline principal's contract


The search for a new principal at Hermon Hutchens Elementary School is back to square one

Or almost, according to Dr. Lisa Stroh, the outgoing superintendent of Valdez City Schools.

Monday night, the board of education asked Stroh to give a recap of the district's efforts to hire a new principal for the district's only elementary school after two candidates visited Valdez last week and both later declined to accept contracts for the position.

The district interviewed Shari Blackburn, a principal from the Falls City School District in Oregon, and Briana Randle, from Joy Elementary School in Fairbanks, in a two-day process paid for by Valdez City Schools.

Last Wednesday, Melissa Reese, the district's director of education services, announced that the district was in contract negotiations with one of the candidates.

"We have offered a contract to one of elementary principal candidates," Reese said in an email send to media outlets in Valdez. "The name of the new elementary principal will be released when the contract is signed. We anticipate receiving a signed contract by the end of the week."

The board of education and Stroh do not use the names of candidates in public meetings – only the names of the position - but the Valdez Star has learned that Randle was the district's first choice for the position and she was offered a contract, which she later declined. It was then offered to Blackburn.

"She decided not to come as well," Stroh said.

Board members asked for more details on why the candidates declined to accept the position and how far along the administration office was in restarting the application process.

"We're not quite back to square one, but almost," board member Joe Prax said before asking "Did we get any idea of why they didn't come?"

Stroh said the top candidate (Randle) declined the contract because the district did not also have an job for her spouse. The second candidate (Blackburn) declined to take the district's offer because she wanted a multi-year contract, which is not permitted under Alaska law, and funds for moving expenses, which the Valdez district does not offer.

Stroh also said the state's current retirement structure and the fact that Valdez City Schools does not offer housing or pay for moving expenses have made filling the elementary principal and other teaching positions difficult.

Valdez Star photo

Melissa Reese, center, hosted a public meet and greet on May 6 for elementary school principal candidates Brianna Randle, left, and Shari Blackburn, right. Both principals declined the job offer.

Stroh said she would be reviewing resumes the district received in the first pool of applicants, as well as continuing to advertise the job as open until filled. Options such as an interim principal or a temporary appointment from within the district will also be explored.

Nationwide, the month of March is considered the prime hiring season for teachers and especially so for administrators.

A number of positions in the district have been hired - including a new principal at Valdez High School, an interim superintendent, and a number of other jobs, both in and out of the classroom – but a number of teaching positions remain unfilled.

Prax asked Stroh if the district was doing all it can to keep board members and the public informed on the hiring process.

"There's questions out there," Prax said. "People don't know."


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