The Homer woman responsible for helping establish the basis of Project GRAD Kenai Peninsula has been hired as the program's executive director.
Heather Pancratz, a trained teacher and former counselor at Homer Middle School, has served for the last several months as the new site coordinator for the local effort to bring the nationwide school reform program, Project GRAD USA, to the peninsula.
But last week, the job became permanent.
Project GRAD USA is a Houston, Texas-based reform program that works with communities and school districts to provide curriculum, staff training and graduation incentives at member schools.
The Kenai Peninsula chapter of the program, which was kicked off at seven rural schools in the district Nanwalek, Nikolaevsk, Ninilchik, Port Graham, Razdolna, Tyonek and Voznesenka is the national program's first foray into rural, kindergarten through 12th-grade schools, as well as into Alaska.
As the new site coordinator, Pancratz has worked with community members, Native organizations, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and Project GRAD USA to enter into the selected schools, set up a board of directors for the program and started gathering financial support.
In her new position as executive director, Pancratz will do much of the same.
"I'll be working on program development, supporting the board of directors, fund-raising and developing Project GRAD Kenai Peninsula and community support and working with principals," she said. "I'll be working as a liaison between the school district, Project GRAD USA, the local sites, stakeholders and community groups."
In just the next few months, Pancratz plans to begin the implementation of some of the Project GRAD programs, such as a classroom management program and math curriculum, at the sites. She also will make regular visits to the involved communities and begin hiring staff, including a scholarship-summer institute coordinator and office manager. Eventually, Project GRAD Kenai Peninsula will employ about 18 people, she said.
Looking ahead, Pancratz is expecting challenges.
"Most program sites have one high school and all the feeder schools," she said. "I have seven different schools, and each has its own culture and its own strengths. I want to make sure we're bringing a program that is relevant and takes into account all the different strengths."
Still, she said, she's ready for it.
"I like being challenged in what I do," she said. "And I'd like to put a challenge out to the community. I'd like to see the Kenai Peninsula, as a whole, begin to get involved in the dreams and goals of the youth in the community.
"When you see a young person, say, 'What do you want to do when you graduate high school? Where do you want to go for college or job training?' We need to make it an expectation and let kids know we believe they can do it.
"If we make it a community attitude, it will spill over into everything."
For more information on Project GRAD or to get involved, call Pancratz at (907) 235-5612.
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