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Gastineau principal candidates take the hot seat

Posted: April 5, 2012 - 11:07pm
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Brenda Edwards is one of two candidates for principal of Gastineau Elementary School.  Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Brenda Edwards is one of two candidates for principal of Gastineau Elementary School.

Two candidates to become Gastineau Elementary School’s next principal took the hot seat Thursday morning to be interviewed by a large panel of interviewers.

The two candidates are Brenda Edwards, teacher at Harborview Elementary School in Juneau, and Jacquelyn Howland a principal from Placentia, Calif.

The panel interviewed the candidates in the Gastineau library, which was open to the public. It later discussed the interviews, and according to district Communications Manager Kristin Bartlett said once the panel is done with its selection, Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich will do a site visit where the candidate works. Bartlett said that could include one or both candidates. So an announcement of which candidate is ultimately selected could be either one or two weeks out.

Edwards has a Master of Arts in teaching from the University of Alaska Southeast, Bachelor of Arts in liberal studies from the University of California at Los Angeles, and an Associate of Arts from Butte Community College in Oroville, Calif.

She is certified as a highly qualified teacher, and has taught grades 2 and 3 at Harborview since 2009. Edwards also has been a transitions teacher on an Expanding on Excellence grant for Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School since 2006, and also has been the Tlingit Language and Literacy program liaison since 2006 at DZ.

Edwards started with the district as a substitute teacher in 2005.

Howland is the principal of Linda Vista Elementary School in the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District, and has been since 2004. She also was a teacher and professional development coordinator from 2004-08. Howland has a Bachelor of Arts in liberal studies from the University of California, Fullerton, a Master of Arts in psychology from Pepperdine University in Irvine, Calif., and has a California Clear Administrative credential.

Candidates were asked about 17 questions.

Edwards said when the job was posted for Gastineau she knew that this was it — this was a job she would take and leave the classroom for.

“I am doer, I like to have a plan and see it through,” Edwards said. “I can very confidently say I’m a team player. As far down as two students collaborating on a science question to a whole building working to change the discipline policy. ... Gastineau has this reputation of being this really collaborative team. The third quality I would say that I have is I am a teacher. That’s No. 1 to me. Anybody that’s involved in the educational field ... we are all teachers. Being able to enhance any kind of teaching role, whether it’s helping parents find ways to assist their students at home, or figuring out ways for teachers to be more effective, or ways at the administrative level to get our students where they need to be.”

Edwards was asked how she would get parents and others in the community to engage in a partnership with the school.

She said in working with Tlingit language literacy, they have to think “outside the box” to get parents involved. She said the same approach could be used at Gastineau with events outside the school day and, she’s learned, that with most people all you have to do is ask.

Edwards was asked several questions that revolved around innovation and collaboration — Professional Learning Communities, place-based education, ways to engage students at different levels and identifying at-risk students.

Edwards’ answers reflected largely on collaborating with teachers in the classrooms who can help identify struggling students and work together using available resources to help students.

“I use a variety of different ways to variate my instruction,” Edwards said in response to how to work with kids of different levels in the same class. “I use a lot of grouping methods — grouping with like peers, reading level or ability. I’ve grouped students with a peer that might have a little bit more understanding about reading or math so they can do peer modeling table groups, a lot of collaborative work. They’re able to do a lot of talking and a lot of teaching to each other. They’re able to voice their ideas with their small group. We talk about the idea of respectfully disagreeing. I love hearing my second- and third-graders use those words.”

Edwards said coming from Harborview, she knows that Gastineau is also a school that places a strong emphasis on place-based learning and she believes it creates relevance for all students.

Edwards admitted walking out of the classroom and going to an administrative position will be a challenge — but she also views it as instead of having one classroom of students, she could have several. She said she would want to get to know students as individuals and their parents, and let the teachers know that she values what they do.

She also was asked about how she’d form a partnership with teachers.

“I have this value ingrained in myself with mutual respect,” Edwards said. “We all have the same idea in mind of what we want our kids to walk out of our school with. The job of the principal is to rally the troops. OK — now how are we going to do that? It’s not a simple task. I won’t try and say that I have all the answers. As a teacher one thing I really appreciate is this idea of collaboration.”

When asked if she would accept if offered the job, she said yes.

Howland was asked the same questions.

She said she was interested in the position because she has the experience of being a principal for eight years, and is at the point in her life where she has a little freedom — so she wants to make the jump to Alaska.

Howland said she’s part of a small school that has a strong sense of community like Gastineau.

“I have a style of collaboration, working with parents, teachers and staff to make sure we have a shared vision,” she said. “Capitalizing on many strengths, I’m looking to where we can make improvements. I’m honest and forthright, which is important in a leader. People need to be able to trust you.”

She said it’s important to respect parents and make sure everyone feels welcome at the school.

“Everybody has a philosophy of learning,” Howland said. “My job is to learn the culture here at Gastineau. I’m not here to necessarily superimpose. I think we need to look at best practices. In actual teaching there are best practices.”

Howland said her experience with place-based education is using resources available in the community to make sure students are getting support.

“Continuous improvement really starts with a vision of where you want to be,” Howland said. “You have to have a shared vision with parents, staff, kids. Everybody knows where we want to be one year from today, five years from today. The district has a strategic plan, I think schools need to have a strategic plan.”

She said she would accept the job if offered, barring any unforeseen problem. She said she also will have to collaborate with her husband.

Both talked about visiting teachers in the classrooms on a regular — if not daily — basis and being an active, visible presence.

Candidate resumes can be found at bit.ly/HOVKcU.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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