For the Haines School District, the new school year comes with a new superintendent. After the unexpected resignation of last year’s superintendent, Ginger Jewell, retired educator and Juneau resident Rich Carlson agreed to take on the job.
After working in education for about 40 years, Carlson decided to retire from his job as superintendent of Klawock School District. That was about a year and a half ago.
“And that didn’t last very long,” Carlson said. “I was very unsuccessful at retiring.”
Carlson says soon after he retired, he realized he missed working in education. So he looked around for a short-term job. Right around that time, Cordova School District lost their superintendent. They hired Carlson on an interim basis, and he ended up staying there for the whole school year.
“Basically the same thing happened here,” he said. “I was just finishing up my contract in Cordova, and got a call from [school board president] Anne Marie Palmieri asking me to come here to see if I would like it.”
Carlson had a short break between Cordova and Haines, and he started working again in August.
“My responsibilities are exactly the same as any superintendent,” Carlson said. “I’m not interested in just occupying a seat. I need to provide the leadership. That’s my responsibility, that’s what I’ve been hired to do.”
Carlson says, in a small school district a superintendent wears a lot of hats. Here’s his philosophy:
“There’s no way that I am smart enough to be able to control a lot of things that happen, so I just have to have good people around me, and trust them and give them the tools to do the job that I know they can do.”
Last school year, former superintendent Jewell, administrators and teachers asked the school board to expand technology in Haines School one-to-one. The idea of a laptop or iPad for each student was disconcerting to some parents. In the end, the school board approved purchasing enough technology to have one-to-one in grades five and up. The younger grades share laptops and iPads. The technology initiative also brought more digital whiteboards, called SMARTboards, into Haines classrooms.
Carlson says he understands the concern some community members have about expanding technology in the school.
“There’s clearly a balance that has to be struck I think,” he said. “Between using technology totally as an instructional tool and doing the real personal stuff that needs to happen. And I think the angst really is about the image of Kindergarten students, first grade students sitting in front of a screen all day. And that’s clearly not what we want, and clearly not how it’s gonna go.”
Carlson says a couple areas he’s focused on right now are curriculum and special education. He and other administrators are trying to make sure curriculum is aligned with new state standards. They’re also looking to strengthen the special education program. In the past, the superintendent oversaw special ed on top of their other duties. But this year, a new director of student services has that job. Carlson thinks it will allow for more focus on enhancing special ed.
Carlson says he’s also paying attention to the budget.
“One of the things that I haven’t heard a lot about at this point but I suspect we will eventually is the issue of financial stability. We have a declining enrollment and we have a state that is cutting revenue fairly quickly. So part of my responsibility is to make certain by the time I leave that we have a plan to go forward.”
This school year, the Haines district is operating with a $200,000 budget deficit. That deficit is being covered by money from the district’s approximately $700,000 in reserves.
Carlson says he’ll be helping the school board and administration with the transition into finding a new permanent superintendent. Right now, his contract with the district is for six months.