If it’s Monday, it must be Nikolaevsk. The rest of the week, Rich Redmond could be at any of 10 schools spread across the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
Redmond, who was raised and graduated from high school on the peninsula, is the district’s new counselor, providing big-school counseling benefits to the far-flung schools in Tyonek, Hope, Ninilchik, Nikolaevsk, Voznesenka, Razdolna, Kach-emak Selo, Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek.
“We recognized that at our K-through-12 schools, high schoolers and middle schoolers are making the same plans as students at the big schools,” said Norma Holmgaard, the district’s federal programs and small schools director.
The tasks normally done by counselors, such as course planning to prepare students for graduation and career planning to help chart their future, became the responsibilities of principals, who were already struggling to find time for their many roles.
“In an attempt to help those kids make sure they are on the right track, getting the career information they need, course guidance and interest inventories, we needed a counselor to provide additional services,” Holmgaard said.
While at the schools, Redmond reviews credits to make sure students are on track to graduate, ensuring they complete required course sequences in English, science, math and social studies, get in the health and physical education credits they need and take advantage of electives.
For Randy Creamer, principal at Kachemak Selo, a small village at the head of Kachemak Bay, having a counselor is a welcome addition.
“It’s one of those situations where we’ve just had to wear so many hats and that’s one area that’s been neglected,” Creamer said.
Incorrectly interpreting course codes could mean enrolling students in the wrong classes and then having to spend time to correct the mistake.
“This is a plus for us. We’ll be able to get a lot of problems fixed before they start,” Creamer said.
Redmond’s role also is to coordinate with Project GRAD, a nonprofit program that works with students in economically disadvantaged communities to increase graduation rates and encourage continuing education. The program offers students meeting specific requirements $1,000 per year scholarships for four years of college or technical education after graduation.
“It will be great to have Rich partnering with us,” said Heather Pancratz, executive director of Project GRAD on the Kenai Peninsula. “(Project GRAD coach) Lori Garrison sat down with Rich and they talked about how their positions could cooperate so that resources are getting to the kids without duplicating efforts, making sure the students are getting scholarship information, meeting deadlines and know about other opportunities that are out there.”
Every Monday, Redmond will catch up on paperwork at his office in Nikolaevsk, 10 miles east of Anchor Point. The first week of the school year, in addition to Nikolaevsk, he traveled to Voznesenka, Razdolna and Kachemak Selo, villages at the head of Kachemak Bay. Then he flew across the bay to Seldovia and Port Graham, before ending the week in the Sterling Highway community of Ninilchik. The second week of school, he had plans to visit Nanwalek, on the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula, Hope, on the shores of Turnagain Arm, and Tyonek, near the northern end of Cook Inlet.
“I wanted to do this because of the diversity and because I could sleep in my own bed,” Redmond said, referring to his log cabin in Sterling. Laughing, he added, “But whether it’s in the cabin or my camper, I’m not sure.”
Growing up in Nikiski, Redmond graduated from Kenai Central High School in 1972. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in sociology at Grand Rapids Baptist College in Michigan and in the 1980s received a master of social work degree from Grand Valley State University, also in Michigan.
His first assignment on the Kenai Peninsula was in 1990, as counselor at Skyview High School, a position he held for nine years. That was followed by four years as counselor at Ninilchik School, with the last three years of that assignment also including Nikolaevsk School. In 2003-04, he was a counselor for schools in Koyuk and Shaktoolik, on Norton Sound. He returned to the peninsula in 2004, as counselor and activity director for Seward middle and high schools.
“Now, here I am,” he said.
Here, in this case, is all over a district that covers 25,600 square miles and is roughly the size of West Virginia.
After a week spent traveling from one end of the Kenai Peninsula to the other, Redmond said he was looking forward to a relaxing weekend of fishing in Valdez, a 1,000-mile round-trip drive.
“You have to find just the right person (for this job) and I think we did,” Holmgaard said.
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