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Atwater accepts new position

Board hopes to have a plan of how to proceed in September

Posted: August 5, 2014 - 9:03pm  |  Updated: August 5, 2014 - 9:11pm

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater accepted the position as the University of Alaska Associate Vice President for K-12 Outreach Tuesday.

Atwater publicly announced his resignation as KPBSD superintendent effective Dec. 1 at the Monday Board of Education meeting and the board approved it.

“My main interest in the job is that more and more I’m drawn to state-level work,” Atwater said. “And this is a chance to affect the conversation and the activity with school districts across the state.”

Dr. Dana Thomas, Vice President of UA Academic Affairs and Research, who will be Atwater’s supervisor, said he is looking forward to Atwater fill the position.

“He brings real credibility to the position, very strong credibility because he has … been a very successful superintendent in two school districts,” Thomas said.

Thomas said Atwater’s Doctorate in Education Leadership, good working relationship with the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development and the respect of the deans of the UA Schools of Education will also help Atwater to transition smoothly into the position.

Atwater will be acting as a liaison to encourage productive partnerships with Alaska schools with the UA Schools of Education, the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development and the Alaska Legislature “to better prepare our students to become teachers and to have post secondary success,” Atwater said.

“I think that the liaison between the university and the K-12 system needs to be tightened,” he said. “I’m really excited about trying to do that.”

Atwater said his talks with UA Academic Affairs department about the position began in June.

Prior to an executive session held before the Monday night board meeting where Atwater tendered his resignation, board members, except for board president Joe Arness were unaware the change was forthcoming, Atwater said.

Arness said he wasn’t totally surprised by Atwater’s resignation.

“Steve is a guy who aspires to some things and I knew that there would be another step at some point and that’s OK,” Arness said.

“I think all of us (board members) have really appreciated the leadership that (Atwater has) shown this group,” board member Bill Holt said, at the meeting.

Board member Sunni Hilts said the position Atwater will be filling is a “very important” one.

“It has long been my dream that we have a more seamless education system in the state of Alaska and I feel that (Atwater is) absolutely qualified to lead us toward that,” Hilts said.

Arness said the board will have to determine how to proceed with filling the position of superintendent.

The board can hire from internal or external candidates, conduct a national search and then hire someone or hire an interim superintendent for the remainder of the year and fill the position later.

“We’re hoping at our September meeting to make a decision as to how to proceed,” Arness said.

He said the Dec. 1 effectiveness date of Atwater’s resignation presents some challenges.

“If (the board) went out with a search now for a superintendent, what (it) would find is one who didn’t have a job at this time of year, which by definition is probably not one that (the board would) want,” Arness said.

The general feeling of the board, Arness said, is that if it moves forward with a search, it would be after Jan. 1, 2015. If that’s the decision, it will likely hire an interim.

Arness said in discussing the opportunity with Atwater prior to the announcement, he encouraged him to take the position.

“It was (a job) that he aspired to and will be very well-suited for,” Arness said. “And, yes, it puts (the district) in a bit of an awkward position, but we’ll figure it out.”

As district superintendent, Atwater said he has gained experience that will help him in his new job.

“I have a good understanding of how K-12 works … so that’s obviously a benefit,” he said. “The other benefit is that I have … very good relationships across the state with a lot of the important players, a lot of the important entities at the Legislative level and the Governor’s office and with other school districts so I think I can quickly gain trust those entities to affect change.”

Atwater said working with dedicated educators, administrators and support staff in the district has been the highlight of leading KPBSD for the past five years.

“We’re a great team of educators working very hard together,” he said.

Improvements the district has made since Atwater became superintendent include: increased graduation rates, higher test scores and new curriculum.

“But the other piece that I’m equally proud of is the behind the scenes piece that we’ve done,” he said.

“We’ve made the district a more tightly aligned district in terms of standardizing some of the processes to make us stronger.”

With KPBSD schools ranging in size and community culture, one of the biggest challenges as superintendent has been balancing that diversity.

“We have a bit of everything so to properly have a district position to support each of those is a challenge and I think we do that very well,” he said.

In his final months, Atwater said nothing new will be introduced, but the district will continue to work on new initiatives including the teacher evaluation system and emergency response training.

While he is the district superintendent, Atwater said improvements made are due to the “good people” who work for the school district, the school board, students’ parents and stakeholders.

“This is a great place to work,” he said. … “I’m leaving because I have an opportunity that I think will fit nicely with what’s next for me in my career.”

Kaylee Osowski can be reached at kaylee.osowski@peninsulaclarion.com.

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