School board announces superintendent finalists
The Wrangell school board selected two finalist candidates for the position of superintendent in executive session Monday.
According to a press release issued Tuesday morning, the finalists are: Patrick Mayer, principal since 2010 of Delta High School and the short-lived Delta Cyber School for the Delta Greely School District in Delta Junction, near Fairbanks; and Jay Thomas, Assistant Superintendent and Curriculum Director in the Bering Strait School District in Unalakleet on the shores of the Bering Sea.
The school system reviewed 14 applications in a closed-door executive session on Sunday before narrowing the list to two at Monday’s executive session, said Administrative Assistant Kim Powell.
Scheduling conflicts have accelerated a previously announced schedule for the interviews and hiring process, school board members said. Instead of the planned March 28 community meet-and-greet and interview, the two finalists will be in town today.
The community meet-and-greet will be tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the Wrangell High School commons following a 1:30 pm meet-and-greet with district staff. The school board will meet in one additional executive session at 9 am Saturday to conduct interviews with the candidates.
That means the name of the next likely Wrangell Public Schools Superintendent could be publicly available by next week.
Mayer has worked with the Delta Greely School system since 2009 as an elementary, middle and high school principal. Prior to that, he was principal at Redway and Casterlin Elementary schools in the Southern Humboldt Unified School District in Northern California.
He earned a bachelors degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 1995 and a masters degree in education from Eastern Washington University in 2000, according to his resume. In 2008, he obtained a certificate in school business management from the University of Southern California, and a superintendent credential from Montana State University in 2012. He’s also accumulated 17 years experience working for the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
“I’ve been a teacher and principal from preschool to K12,” he said. He would bring “a love for education and kids as they exit a K-12 system and head to the real world.”
Mayer said he chose to apply for the position in Wrangell after researching the town and school.
“I’m very impressed with the Wrangell district,” he said. “It’s a high-achieving district, and I really like the Southeast.”
Like Wrangell, Delta Greely is facing a general trend of declining enrollment, though the nearby military base Fort Greely can make a big difference in the short-term, Mayer said. Delta Greely currently has about 900 students.
Many rural school systems are in the same boat, he said.
“All of us have to keep our eye on that ball,” he said. “We’re all watching to see what the state legislature does. We’ll have to manage our finances accordingly, and adjust as necessary.”
“You have to sort of have those conversations within the district with key personnel in the district to find out where we are financially,” he added. “Our district is concerned about it as well.”
Mayer also talked about the State of Alaska’s shift from a standard, unified test to computer assisted testing, and tougher curriculum standards, but said he would wait to see what has been implemented before suggesting particular changes.
“I would have to see what has already been done,” he said. In our district we have put procedures and practices in place to smoothly transition into the new standards. Here (Delta Greely) we have been proactive. I’m certain with the leadership in Wrangell they have made some changes.”
The guiding principle would be to seek out and enhance best practices, Mayer said.
“Good teaching is good teaching,” he said. “Forty years ago, good teaching was good teaching. I think we need to focus on the best instructional practices and if we do that, everything else is gonna be just fine.”
Mayer has also served as an administrator in the Mat-Su School District near Anchorage.
Thomas has worked at the Bering Strait School district since 2004, starting as a teacher in the Bering Strait K-12 school, and working up to principal in 2010. He’s held the current assistant superintendent position since last year, according to his resume.
From 2001 to 2003, he was a combination principal and teacher in the Aleutians East Borough School district, and from 1999 to 2001, was a teacher with the Union School District in Union, Ore. In 1998 and part of 1999, he worked as a teacher at St. Mary’s School District.
He earned a bachelors of science from Eastern Oregon University in 1998, and a masters degree in educational leadership from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2006.
A 16-year resident of Alaska, he said his best asset was
“I bring an ability to look outside the box,” he said.
As a curriculum director, he’s also spent a lot of time thinking about the new state standards.
“Historically, this is the first time in at least 40 years that we’ve seen standards changes and assessment changes,” he said. “Nobody knows exactly how it’s going to go.”
Communication would be critical to successfully bringing the district in line with the state goals, Thomas said.
“The way to take it is one piece at a time,” he said. “Keep communicating, keep putting it out there, just be open.”
Regarding declining enrollment Thomas said partnerships with local and state institutions may prove to be critical in countering it and the corresponding funding declines.
“You have to be open with school board, with parents, with the community, so everyone knows what you face,” he said. “People step up. You get help in areas that you didn’t expect to get help in.”
Thomas has a storied background beyond education including teaching desert survival skills in Saudi Arabia to pilots in the Saudi Royal Air Force in the early 1990's. Prior to that, he was an instructor at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane while enlisted with the US Air Force from 1988 to 1990.
Among other certifications, he claims a farrier certification from the Oklahoma School of Horseshoeing obtained in 1984.
“I also think that’s one of the things I bring to the position,” he said. “I had a life before education. I grew up on a ranch, you didn’t make a lot, and I had my own horses and I didn’t want to pay someone else to shoe them.”
His background gives him a more practical bent to his educational philosophy, Thomas said.
“I came to education through a route of ranch work and working in the military,” he said.
It was only after the military that he and his wife had managed to save up enough money to return to education, Thomas said.