Bernie Sorenson goes back to school today.
She stepped down as the Juneau School District assistant superintendent to become the new principal of Juneau-Douglas High School because she wanted to experience the energy within a school again, she said.
The school year begins districtwide today for grades one through 12.
"I missed the action of a school," she said. "There's just something about the energy of the school."
Sorenson is taking over the position of interim principal John Norman. She said her decision came as a surprise to some people.
"Yeah, it looks like a demotion in terms of the hierarchy of a system," she said. "People have asked me that, 'Isn't that a demotion?' I suppose in that literal sense it is, but I find being in the schools is the most important work there is."
Although new to JDHS, Sorenson has worked for the district since moving from Montana in 1988 with her husband, Joe, and their two children. She was first hired as an elementary reading specialist, which led to a reassignment of administering grants for the district. Desiring another challenge, Sorenson became principal at Glacier Valley Elementary School. After six years in that capacity she took the role of assistant superintendent for two years.
Superintendent Peggy Cowan said she has a lot of confidence in Sorenson and was impressed with how she led Glacier Valley.
"Her leadership made a difference and really allowed (teachers) to thrive, and allowing them to thrive, it allowed students to thrive," Cowan said.
Sorenson said she wants to build a common vision in the school as a collective system, with all the "stakeholders" working together to guide students toward success. She said she hopes to open the lines of communication between parents, teachers and the administration to focus on student success.
"I think sometimes we have a tendency to focus on the negative of what this huge institution isn't doing versus (what it) is doing," she said.
Sorenson has a variety of long-term and short-term goals that she is already working toward, she said.
"My long-term goals really are to add more rigor, relevance, and get at relationships," she said.
"Setting goals is important," Sorenson said. "Writing them down and then holding yourself accountable to them as a system. So that's what we'll be doing."
Sorenson said one of her first tangible goals is to address attendance.
"Our attendance rates are appalling," she said. "We can only do so much once they get here, but if they do not get here we can't do anything."
She said she hopes parents and community members will help take the initiative to encourage students to attend all of their classes.
"We need our community, our parents, when they see kids to tell them to get back to school," Sorenson said.
Cowan said Sorenson is focused on the task ahead.
"We're lucky to have someone of her caliber leading the high school," Cowan said. "The high school is the flagship of the district and it deserves the best leadership we have and I think she fits that bill."
Sorenson said she hopes to create an atmosphere at the high school where all the students feel accepted and believe the curriculum and classes are meeting their needs.
Sorenson said a successful high school makes for a successful community.
"That's the fun part about high school is that it will be community - parents, staff and students - making this happen," she said. "Well how can you lose? That's a lot of adults and young adults making this a pretty successful place if we want to, but it will take all of us."
Eric Morrison can be reached at email@example.com.