Saying goodbye

KPBSD resigning employees share memories, experience

In the fall local schools will be missing something. A lot of it. More than 200 years worth of it. Experience.


Forty-two Kenai Peninsula Borough School District employees have resigned. They are teachers, principals, counselors, speech language pathologists, psychologists and a planning and operations director.

While some have only been with the district for one year others have worked at KPBSD for more than 40 years. Together the 42 have poured more than two centuries of dedication into district students, other staff, parents, grandparents, guardians and the community.

Each of the resigning staff have different reasons for leaving — retiring, moving, family matters. Some hope to walk the halls of district schools again in the fall as substitutes and volunteers, others will be in other states and countries.

After 43 years of teaching at KPBSD, choir and music teacher Renee Henderson has decided to retire and get some much needed rest.

“My total plan is to sleep,” Henderson said. “I’ve been pretty deprived for about 30 years.”

Henderson directs three choirs open to all Kenai Central High School students for whichever choir time fits into their school schedule.

She said while it’s challenging working with four grades in each choir, she will miss the kids “something fierce.”

“I’ve had incredibly wonderful students, not two or three, hundreds and thousands,” Henderson said.

Henderson’s music career began when she was a little girl.

At the age of five, Henderson’s mother made her take piano lessons, which she despised. But she finished her mother’s required eight years of lessons, and then quit immediately. She said her siblings didn’t mind piano lessons, but she battled her mother everyday.

“Now I’m the only one who still plays,” she said. “Isn’t that so weird?”

Henderson’s first teaching experience began when she was a junior in high school in the Midwest. The superintendent asked her to fill in for an elementary teacher for six weeks. And she did.

“It had to have been illegal,” Henderson said. “I had nobody supervising me. I mean (the students) were seven years younger than I was. It was very strange.”

In college, Henderson started piano lessons again after avoiding lessons for four years. She also took voice and trumpet lessons.

“I called my mom and I said, ‘Gee whiz, mom, I’m so far behind where I could have been if you wouldn’t have let me quit piano,’” Henderson said. “She said, ‘Oh, don’t even go there.’”

She originally wanted to be a heart surgeon, but her father wouldn’t let her because her cousin went through medical school, but never used her degree.

“Education is never a waste, but for people who have gone through (the Great Depression) that’s how they looked at it,” she said.

She began teaching in the district in 1971, after receiving a phone call asking if she would be interested in a position.

“I told them I’d try it for just one year … times 43,” Henderson said. In her time teaching at KPBSD, she has taught an estimated 17,300 students.

Sam Tilly, who is completing his first year as a Kenai Middle School teacher, will be moving with his family to teach seventh grade math at Chadwick International School in Songdo, South Korea.

Tilly’s brother teaches at the school, which was founded four years ago, and he told Tilly about the open position for a math teacher.

After a series of Skype interviews, Tilly found out he got the job in February. He will leave in August for South Korea, and his family will join him in September. His teaching contract with Chadwick is for two years. He said both he and his wife are excited about the opportunity.

Chadwick, an English speaking school, has a sister school in California that was founded in 1935. During the past year at Chadwick, 775 pre-kindergarten through tenth graders attended the school.

In talking to his brother about the job and during interviews, Tilly said he’s learned Chadwick has is a high level of professionalism. He said the parents sometimes put a lot of pressure on students there and teachers write regular updates for parents about their child’s progress.

Tilly said he expects there to be a few teaching differences as well at between Kenai Middle and Chadwick.

“The students are really motivated (at Chadwick) and the parents are all really motivated,” Tilly said. “It’s kind of expensive to go there, and so it’s just a totally different atmosphere, I think, than just a regular school.”

At Kenai Middle, Tilly taught weight lifting and study skills classes for math help.

He said the students in the study skills classes typically aren’t very motivated, which was challenging.

“It’s been difficult at times,” Tilly said. “Some kids just really aren’t motivated, but they’re with you an hour a day.”

Even with the challenges, Tilly said he has enjoyed getting to know the students in his small classes.

While he may not have to push students at Chadwick as hard as he has with Kenai Middle students do their schoolwork, Tilly said they do all share a commonality. They’re all middle schoolers.

“This year I’ve really gotten a better feeling of just how they think and behave,” Tilly said. “And I’m sure it’s similar across cultures because the young over there the young over here … they’re still going to be kids.”

Norma Holmgaard accepted a position as superintendent of the Yupitt School District. She first began her career in education at the Bering Strait School District and is looking forward to going back to rural Alaska.

“I’m excited to make a difference in another place,” she said.

Holmgaard worked for KPBSD for 16 years. She started as a federal programs coordinator working with federal grants, and from there became the director of K-12 schools and federal programs. She has spent the last years of her KPBSD employment as principal of Mountain View Elementary School in Kenai.

She said going back to a school to work was challenging, but rewarding.

“Coming back into a school grounded me again and reminded me of who I really work for,” Holmgaard said.

Holmgaard said she will miss the eclectic staff at Mountain View, the active and involved parents and her time with students.

“Some of the things that I’ll miss the most are my duties — bus duty and lunch duty — because I get to see all of the students, find out how their day has gone,” she said. “During those times you really get to be a cheerleader, you really get to spread goodwill.”

Assistant Principal Karl Kircher will take over as Mountain View principal, and Bill Withrow, a Redoubt Elementary School teacher, will become the assistant principal at Mountain View.

Holmgaard said she wasn’t looking for a new position, but when she learned about the superintendent job, it seemed like the “right thing to do.”

The Yupitt School District is made up of three schools and about 420 students.

As superintendent, Holmgaard hopes to solidify district curriculum, put assessments in a systemic process and strengthen community and school support systems.

“I have learned so much here in the Kenai about effect systems and putting them in place,” Holmgaard said. “So I’m looking forward to now implementing what I’ve learned here in a district that is struggling a little bit with those things.”

Kaylee Osowski can be reached at