Candidates vie for principal position at Thunder Mountain

Posted: Friday, May 21, 2010

The three candidates for the position of Thunder Mountain High School principal spoke to community members, teachers, district faculty and others at an open house in the Thunder Mountain library Thursday evening.

The candidates are Rhonda Hickok of Juneau, Sherrill Murray-Lazarus of Newburgh, New York, and Daniel Larson of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Hickok is currently assistant principal and activities director at Thunder Mountain. She first held a position with the district in 1991, and, with the exception of a few years, has worked in different capacities for the school district since then.

"I have a vested interest in this community and I have a vested interest in where the staff and students in this building are headed.... It's been a great experience, and I want to continue that experience in the capacity of the building leader," she said.

Hickok said she wants to continue to work with staff on advisories, in which teachers advise a set group of students in each grade, helping them figure out how to be successful.

She also said she wants to implement a program called AVID, or Advancement Via Individual Determination, school-wide, and ensure teachers, staff and administration understand it clearly and see it not as an additional duty, but as a part of what they do. The district is implementing the program at both middle schools and high schools, she said.

The program "takes our middle-of-the-road kids and really excels them forward," she said. It's meant to help close achievement gaps.

Murray-Lazarus was one of the candidates considered for the position of JDHS principal. She has family in Juneau.

"My very first job is to get to know the climate and the culture and the community of Thunder Mountain," she said. "My impression is it's an extremely successful learning community."

It's now been a year since she retired as principal of Roy C. Ketcham Senior High School in Wappingers Falls, New York.

"I miss the students," she said. "No one tells you you'll get really tired of doing crossword puzzles. I had the great good fortune of having a wonderful career dealing with students in high school and I'd like to do it again. I would love the opportunity to do it here."

Larson said he applied "based on my passion for being an educator, being a principal, and my passion for the outdoors and friends that I have in Sitka."

As far as changes he might implement at Thunder Mountain, he said "it's not so much about me."

"I can facilitate change but it's about 'What are the district initiatives? What is the school improvement plan relative to closing the achievement gap, increasing the graduation rate? What are the teachers' expectations?' Working as a team, starting from the top and spiraling into the building, and communicating out."

He said he is a proponent of personal learning plans for students "through faculty consensus" that articulate the student's goals.

"It's easy to list 101 school improvement objectives, but really what you have to build is consensus," he said. "You don't build a product, you build an attitude."

Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said the process will be the same as it was for the recent JDHS principal search, with public interviews held today at Thunder Mountain between 8:15 a.m. and 1 p.m.

He said administrators will narrow down the field tomorrow afternoon, and will know by Monday if they are going to do a site visit at a candidate's school. He said he expects to have a decision in a week's time, though it could be as late as June 1.

If the district decides not to hire any of the candidates, he said they would hire an interim principal for the year and conduct the search again in February.

Current principal Patti Bippus is stepping down at the end of this school year.

Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or

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