School district welcomes new 'Guy'

Posted: Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Guy Fisher has an extensive history with Alaska education. Now, he's bringing his expertise to the Kenai Peninsula.

The new assistant superintendent of operations for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, Fisher is settling in this month as the replacement for Gary Whiteley, who resigned last spring.

Though relatively new to the peninsula, Fisher is no stranger to the job in front of him. Hailing originally from New Jersey, he first came to Alaska in 1969, fulfilling a lifelong dream.

Like so many others, he said, "I always wanted to see Alaska."

When he first arrived, he fell into a serendipitous position as a caretaker for a homestead in Sutton. He stayed for a year, trying to establish residency so he could homestead on his own just as the Federal Homesteading Act was revoked.

"I never did get to," he said.

Instead, he went back to teaching, working for a few years with a program for boarding house students from rural villages. He later worked with the Anchorage School District to prepare the first Indian Education Grant and helped develop one of the first Native language programs at a public high school in Alaska.

"We taught English by teaching Yup'ik," he said. "I worked a lot with the unique things in educating Native kids. I think I learned more from them than they learned from me, though."

Soon, he was made an administrative intern ("My response was 'What was that?'" he said), training to take on administrative duties. He received a master's degree in history and education from Alaska Methodist University now Alaska Pacific University and a master's from the University of Alaska Anchorage in school administration. Then, he spent the next 20 years in assistant principal and principal positions in the Anchorage area, the last five of which were at Service High School.

After that, he went to the North Slope, where he spent five years as principal in Barrow, where he lived year round.

"I was one of the only educators who did, and I think I'm still the only principal who has," he said, explaining that he believes his permanent presence gave him more credibility with the community.

Finally, Fisher decided to retire and move back East, where his parents were aging and ailing. While he did end up near his parents, his retirement lasted only six months.

"Some people were aware of my background," he said. So when the local school district in Tennessee had an unexpected opening for an assistant principal, he was asked to fill it.

"At first I said no, but I ended up taking it," Fisher said.

At the end of the school year, he was asked to become principal.

"I wasn't going to do that either."

But he did, working as principal, then director of secondary education, then human resources director.

Now, eight years after leaving the Last Frontier, Fisher has returned.

"My youngest child finished high school (in Tennessee)," he said. "My kids live here; he moved her. My wife's daughter is here, and our grandkids. I thought, 'Why are we staying out here?'"

Fisher said he's excited to be on the peninsula, mostly because of the range of opportunities the district presents.

"It's such a diverse system; you have all the challenges in the whole state," he said. "And the superintendent has a great reputation."

Plus, he said laughing, "I'm not moving right now."

In fact, that's only partially true. While he is renting an apartment on the peninsula, he and his wife also are fixing up a condominium in Anchorage, where their families live. Soon, Fisher said, they'll be looking to buy a house here, as well.

In the meantime, though, Fisher is spending most of his time acclimating to the new school district and job.

Things have changed in the eight years he's been away, Fisher said, but he hopes his fresh perspective will aid the district.

"Having spent 20-some years in Alaska education in the big money days to having an eight-year break, I think I have a snapshot of what was and what is. The economic times are very different, and I'll have to be sensitive to that," he said.

"And I hope I can provide useful insight into things that are going on, as a new set of eyes that can ask, 'Why do we do that?'"

As for specifics, Fisher said, "You'll have to ask (Superintendent Donna Peterson) what she hopes I'll do. I'm just going to try to do my best for them. I hope my experience in both large schools and small schools, village education and nonvillage education I hope my background will be an asset."

The one thing he's not likely to do is retire. After several tries, Fisher said he's pretty much given up.

"What I learned is that I prefer to be working. Maybe it's a genetic flaw," he joked. "I enjoy working with kids, and I miss it when I don't.

"So I'm going to keep right on going until somebody tells me they don't want me to work."

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