Haines Superintendent Tony Habra. (Emily Files)

Haines Superintendent Tony Habra. (Emily Files)

Haines School District’s new superintendent says he wants to listen and learn before making any big decisions about the district. Tony Habra came to Haines from a superintendent post in Paw Paw, Michigan. He’s been on the job about two weeks, and he says his biggest goal right now is to get to know the school.

Habra is working on a survey of sorts to acquaint himself with the district. He wants to talk with every staff member, from the janitors to the principals, asking:

“What do you want me to know about you? What are your concerns, if any? What are your concerns for me as I start the school year? What one thing can I do with the staff to impact it positively? And then the whole thing wraps up with the question, what’s one thing that you feel absolutely cannot change here in Haines?”

Habra hopes these conversations will help him formulate a long-term vision for the district. Although, he doesn’t expect to know what that vision is until next school year.

“It would be extremely arrogant of me to come in and say I have the answer to anything.”

He says he’s made that mistake in the past. He’s worked as superintendent in two other school districts, and before that as a principal, counselor and teacher.

“This isn’t my first rodeo. I would say I have certainly made mistakes in the past. I have come in with the idea that certain things needed to be changed. I’m not gonna make that mistake again.”

Habra compared change to the grieving process – there’s denial, anger, bargaining. He says the more change you have, the harder it is to accept and adjust.

“There’s been a lot of change in the district. There’s been four superintendents in four years. Two years ago there was 10 new staff members hired. Where we’re going, what we’re doing, we need to take a breath.”

Habra is taking over for interim superintendent Rich Carlson, who stepped in after the unexpected resignation of former superintendent Ginger Jewell.

One of the changes Jewell implemented in her year with the district was an increase in classroom technology. While teachers advocated for the change, some parents were uncertain about how more screen time could be positive.

“I think there were unrealistic expectations of what technology could do for education when it first started and now I think the reverse has happened with people saying we don’t need any technology. But the fact is is that the world runs on technology and it would be remiss if we didn’t help students understand the varying uses of technology.”

The district is also facing questions about its financial future. Former superintendent Carlson warned the school board at budget meetings that its current strategy of leaning on reserves to cover a deficit was unsustainable.

Habra says he needs to take time learning ‘what makes Haines special’ before he’ll have an idea of what can be cut in future budget cycles.

“I know we will make hard decisions. And honestly once that starts, I will make sure people understand the process of how we’re going to get to that decision before we start going through that process. And this is the beginning of it.”

Habra says when he does decide on those changes, he plans to be transparent about the reasoning behind them.

But for now, he is focused on learning about the district so he can be prepared when the time comes for more change.