Anthony Habra, Tom Yaraes and family, Robin Gray. (School websites)

Anthony Habra, Tom Yahraes and family, Robin Gray. (School websites)

UPDATE: Tom Yahraes withdrew his candidacy from the superintendent search Friday morning. Pribilof Island School District Superintendent Connie Newman is now in the running, taking Yahraes’ place.

Original story:

There are three finalists in the search for the next Haines Borough School District Superintendent. The school board made the decision Wednesday night after interviewing six favorite candidates by Skype, and discussing the applicants in a closed-door session for two and a half hours.


Robin Gray, Anthony Habra and Tom Yahraes are in the running to be Haines’ next superintendent.

Gray has been superintendent for Yakutat School District since 2014. She also served as an administrator in Dillingham and the Bering Strait Region. In her Skype interview, Gray said the size of Haines drew her to this job.

“It’s bigger than Yakutat however it’s not too big. My leadership style has a lot to do with relationships. And if the school is not too big, it’s easier for me to develop the relationships that kind of engender working together better, collaboration, empowering people to rise up because you believe in them.”

Gray was the target of the community outcry when the Yakutat school district cut the boys’ basketball program in 2014. She said there were not enough eligible boys for the team. This year, the district implemented more study halls to try to deal with the eligibility problem.

Gray said in Yakutat, she’s pushed for staff development and updating antiquated school materials.

“We’re teaching at a higher expectation and we are going forward and we’re preparing our kids better to reach that 21st century. And that’s the legacy I’m leaving.”

The other two superintendent candidates are currently in the Lower 48. Anthony Habra has been superintendent of Paw Paw Schools in Paw Paw, Michigan since 2013. Before that, he worked as superintendent for Rudyard Area Schools.

“I went from a smaller district to a larger district and I found that it’s not quite the connection that I was seeking with the students. The more students there are, the more adults there are, the more you’re working with adult problems, instead of for students, which is what my focus is and always has been. So I don’t know people as well as I used to and I miss that.”

Habra talked about changes he made at the Paw Paw District to help close a test score achievement gap. He said listening to teachers and empowering them was a big part of that.

“What you do as a superintendent is evaluate what’s happening and make sure the barriers are removed as much as possible and allow the experts to do what they do in the classroom.”

The final candidate is Tom Yahraes. He is currently CEO of a Montessori School, Discovery Academy in Big Sky, Montana. Before that, he was assistant superintendent in the Big Sky School District.

When the board asked Yahraes about how he would deal with a budget deficit:

“I’m tenacious in trying to make win-win situations and not lose jobs and not lose programming and get as creative as possible.”

Yahraes said when he was at Big Sky School District, he saw that dropout rates were an issue. So, he worked to make graduation requirements more flexible.  Yahraes said he was offered the superintendent contract there, but he felt that it wasn’t the best place for his leadership, in part due to pending lawsuits that started before his tenure.

“What I learned in that experience is do you research, and know the board, understand the staff, look at the data deeper, and I have [done that] with Haines.”

The three candidates that the board interviewed but did not select as finalists include two with Alaska superintendent experience – Norma Holmgaard and Connie Newman, and one aspiring superintendent in Idaho, Kristina Brinkerhoff.

After hours of public interviews and private deliberations, School Board President Anne Marie Palmieri declined to comment on specific reasons why the board chose Habra, Yahraes and Gray. She did say the candidates seemed like they might be good fits for Haines.

“We’re looking for someone who can be a leader, and who has a vision, and can be a visionary and take our school district to the next level.”

The three finalists intend to travel to Haines on Feb. 23 and 24 for in-person interviews and a community forum.


Superintendent interview audio:

Anthony Habra:


Tom Yahraes:


Robin Gray:


Kristina Brinkerhoff:


Norma Holmgaard:


Connie Newman: