SoHi principal wins state honor

Posted: Monday, February 28, 2000

Soldotna High School Principal Sylvia Reynolds has been named the 2000 Alaska Secondary Principal of the Year.

This is the third year in a row that the Alaska chapter of the National Association of Secondary School Principals has selected a central Kenai Peninsula educator.

"I was surprised," she said. "I was in shock."

Reynolds learned of the award Feb. 18 from Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Donna Peterson.

Peterson sent word that she was coming to SoHi to meet with Reynolds, who had been debating pending school cutbacks with the administration. Peterson brought assistant superintendents Patrick Hickey and Todd Syverson along.

"I thought I was really in trouble because I was pushing too much," Reynolds said.

"She told me I had won the state award, and I did not hear her. I said, 'I beg your pardon?'"

Reynolds was quick to pass credit for the award on to SoHi's staff, students and the wider community. She pointed out that others at the school have won prestigious professional awards.

"If a person is successful, it is because they have successful people around them," she said.

"It is nice to be recognized, but it is not a Sylvia Reynolds award. It is a school award."

Assistant Principal Mark Norgren praised Reynolds for her leadership skills and ability to juggle a wide spectrum of educational functions such as the student body's attitude, changing curriculum and scheduling challenges.

"She is on top of a lot of those things," he said. "She is very well-rounded in her approach."

SoHi has had good success with what Reynolds calls "the five C's" -- communication, commitment, creativity, connections and celebration.

Reynolds said the school sets straightforward goals, commits to individualized and creative approaches to assure that each student progresses and fosters networking with the community. Examples include a $10 activity card that allows students and senior citizens to attend home sporting events for no additional cost; the Renaissance Program that rewards students who achieve academically and helps others with motivational guest speakers; and a work-study agreement that has students managing the concession stand at the Soldotna Sports Center.

"People always talk about things that are wrong with schools," she said. "We talk about things that are right. Success breeds success."

Success leading an Alaska high school is far from Reynolds' beginnings in rural upstate New York. She finished high school in a class of 50 in a place she described as "an itty bitty town of 800 -- counting the pigs and chickens."

She headed off to Arkansas State University on an academic scholarship and became the first woman in her family to earn a college diploma.

She became a physical education teacher and took a post in Nome, where she taught 15 years.

"I absolutely love teaching. I got paid for doing something I love," she said.

Her hard work earned her the award of Alaska Teacher of the Year, and a citation as one of six national physical education teachers of the year.

Dissatisfaction with schoolwide issues such as lack of continuity and turnover led her into administration. She wanted to avoid negativity and offer positive change, she said.

"If you don't like something, be part of the solution," she said. "I have never worked so hard in my life."

Reynolds was working as an assistant principal in Juneau when she received a call from the Kenai Peninsula offering her the Soldotna job. She was involved in the sports and activities and unsure whether she should accept. But after thinking about it, she decided to take a one-year leave of absence from her school in Juneau in case SoHi did not work out.

That was in 1995.

"This is my fifth year," she said. "It's the only school I've ever been a principal at. I love my school, and I feel passionately about it."

Reynolds has plenty to do at SoHi, but she also is involved in other educational projects. She teaches a distance course on physical education for the University of Alaska Fairbanks elementary education program and, in April 1999, she was invited to speak about high-stakes testing at the Council of Chief State School Officers when the national association of state school commissioners met at Girdwood.

Her latest award includes an invitation to a national conference in Washington, D.C., and a shot at winning the National Principal of the Year Award.

Reynolds follows Kenai Middle School Principal Paul Sorenson, who won the state award last year, and retired Skyview Principal Marlene Byerly, who won it two years ago.

"It really says something nice about our district," Reynolds said.

Reynolds said what has pleased her most about the award is two letters of recommendation students wrote to go with her nomination, in which they praised their principal's effect on their lives.

"Knowing I had touched students in that way means everything," she said.

Tosha Swan and Macy Nicholas are juniors at Kenai Central High School who visited the Peninsula Clarion Thursday as part of a job-shadowing program.

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