New faces at local schools

Posted: Thursday, August 26, 2010

Juneau School District has a lot of new faces this year that are leading schools and teaching students.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The district has several new teachers, many of whom come from outside Juneau. There also are a few new classified staff and district-wide employees. District communications manager Kristin Bartlett said there are more than 400 teachers in the district and 780 employees total. She said that many new hires isn't unusual for an employer that large.

"It's definitely due to people moving and retiring," she said.

One of the many new faces is that of Dan Larson, the principal at Thunder Mountain High School. Larson is beginning his 17th year as an administrator, coming most recently from Lincoln, Neb. Larson started his teaching career in Dallas, after working at a juvenile reformatory. He started college as a biology major, but found a passion for working with youth. That escalated later as he felt like he wanted to do more for students and went into administration.

"I basically wanted to move to Alaska 30 years ago when I graduated from college," he said. "I had two friends from college that were coming to Fairbanks to a career fair."

However, he landed a job in Dallas before the career fair. Larson said he considers himself an avid outdoorsman and it was his lifelong dream to move to Alaska. He's also looking forward to milder winters than in Nebraska, where winters can be harsh, he said.

"I've been really just touched by the friendship and camaraderie offered by community members in regard to befriending me and my daughter," Larson said.

Larson said he is inspired by the students at Thunder Mountain.

"The kids are awesome," he said. "I think the one message I would send to the Juneau community is that you've got some awesome kids. You've got some kids with some strong social skills."

He said many students looked him in the eye, shook his hand and welcomed him to the school.

"My outlook is optimistic," Larson said. "We have all the ingredients we need to do whatever we set up as goals to making achievements."

New Juneau-Douglas High School Principal Ryan Alsup also holds a positive outlook on the school year.

"For the first couple days of meeting with the kids and the faculty, I've got a very positive outlook," he said.

Alsup came from Castle Rock, Colo., because his family wanted to move here. Once he toured the community, he knew it was a place he wanted to be. Alsup said many of the concepts and practices going on in the high school are ahead of the curve in many ways compared to other parts of the country.

"The educational philosophy and things we have and use here," he said. "The AVID (college readiness) program is a district initiative I definitely wanted to be a part of."

Alsup went into teaching because he always knew he wanted to be in the education field.

"I wanted to make a difference with kids," Alsup said.

Alsup was an assistant principal for the last four years in Colorado and oversaw programs like Advanced Placement, English as a Second Language, Alternative Education and Special Education.

Elizabeth Kent is a new fourth-grade teacher at Mendenhall River who grew up in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. She followed her mother's footsteps into education, but also was drawn to Alaska.

Kent went to school at the University of Alaska Southeast, lived in Fairbanks for nine years and spent her summers working in rural Alaska villages. She previously taught in Juneau during her student teaching.

"The (program) was a great program," she said. "Leaving the program, I felt like they covered a lot of things I've incorporated into my teaching. I worked at Glacier Valley and they were amazing teachers. I felt like it was a great district to work in because of the teachers that are here."

Kent is looking forward to collaborating with the teachers at Mendenhall and is excited to work with two other new teachers at that school.

"It seems like there's a lot of changes going through, but it seems like they are all really positive," she said.

• Sarah Day can be contacted at 523-2279 or

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