Longtime local teacher named Gastineau Elementary principal

New Mendenhall head now acting principal in Bakersfield, Calif.

Posted: Sunday, March 09, 2003

Juneau teacher Angie Lunda has been named principal of Gastineau Elementary School, and California teacher Patricia Newman has been selected principal of Mendenhall River Community School.

Their names will be forwarded to the Juneau School Board for final approval. They would start next school year.

Current Gastineau Principal Kathi Riemer has been appointed to head up the before- and after-school child care RALLY program for the school district. Karen MacDonald, principal at Mendenhall River since the fall of 2001, resigned.

On Thursday and Friday, members of the site councils of the two schools, along with Superintendent Peggy Cowan and other administrators, publicly interviewed finalists for the jobs and selected, with Cowan's concurrence, the winning applicants. They accepted the positions Saturday.

Lunda has taught math and science in Juneau middle schools since 1988, and previously taught the subjects at Mount Edgecumbe boarding high school in Sitka for a year.

She holds a bachelor's degree in biological oceanography from the University of Washington, and expects to complete a master's degree in educational leadership at the University of Alaska Southeast this summer.

Lunda, who is Tlingit and grew up in Juneau, has helped design training for Southeast teachers in culturally responsive ways to teach, and has coordinated a summer science camp that interweaves Western and Native ways of knowing.

"I think I've been preparing for this job for a long time," Lunda told the interview committee Thursday afternoon at the school, which she attended in kindergarten and grades two through five.

The 275-student school in Douglas is the smallest of the district's six regular elementary schools. Only the charter school is smaller.

Among other prepared questions, the committee asked Lunda what she thought were the best ways to teach children.

"Quality education requires that kids feel that they're in the right place, that they feel at home, feel loved," Lunda said. "So that requires that staff care about each child."

Teachers need a deep knowledge of content, she said, but they must realize they're teaching people and expect the most of them. Teachers should create activities that engage children, emphasize connections to their lives, and draw connections among the subjects.

Lunda said that dealing with cultural differences was one of her strengths.

"Every child comes from a culture, and in order to teach each child you need to be aware of what has shaped each child," Lunda told the interviewers.

The committee also asked what strengths she could bring to help children in poverty.

"The most obvious is I've lived the life," she said. "I think I have connections to the community. Children that live around Gastineau are from families that I know. I think I'm not afraid of dealing with children in poverty. I'm willing to do the home visits that are necessary."

Outgoing principal Riemer said, "in my four years at Gastineau, I have been overwhelmed by the dedication and commitment to kids I have seen from the staff, parents and community. ... My decision to leave Gastineau is one of the most difficult I have ever made. I know that Gastineau will be in great hands however, and I can't begin to express how happy I am that a local girl will be coming home."

Newman, chosen for the Mendenhall River position, is an acting principal and administrative trainee in Bakersfield, Calif., a farming area with an ethnically diverse population. She has taught first grade there since 1988, and previously taught elementary grades in private schools in California for about eight years. She has been a mentor teacher who trains other teachers and worked in a program to help beginning teachers.

She holds a bachelor's degree in liberal studies from California State University at Bakersfield and a master's in educational management from the University of La Verne in California.

Mendenhall River school off Back Loop Road, with about 430 students, is Juneau's largest elementary school.

In response to a question from interviewers, Newman said diversity in the school population "brings a lot to our schools. Our society is diverse. We have to learn to value the differences that we have."

Schools need to weave diversity into the curriculum, so that everyone is comfortable coming to school, she said.

Newman said her leadership style is "to create a very open environment, where everyone feels really comfortable, enough to discuss things, to brainstorm strategies, to work as a team, to disagree, to create an atmosphere of lifelong learning."

The school district received about 20 applicants for the Mendenhall River job and about 15 for the Gastineau position, said Human Resources Director Patti Carlson.

The other finalists who interviewed included Haines Principal Frank Wicks and Linda Maloney, a special ed administrator at the South East Regional Resource Center Inc., both of whom applied for both positions. Juneau phys ed teacher Marvin Walter interviewed for the Mendenhall River job, and Newman also interviewed for the Gastineau post.

Carlson said Lunda was chosen for her ties to the Gastineau community and math background, and Newman was chosen for her recent teaching experience and current school administrative experience.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

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