‘AASSP Regional Principals of The Year 2020 – Part 2’ by Seanna O’Sullivan at ACSA

The Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals (AASSP) sponsors regional and statewide Principal of The Year recognition awards to honor the educational leaders who play such a pivotal role in student success. They may be nominated by anyone – students, staff, parents, district office staff or principal peers – with awards finalized by AASSP members in their region.

Below are stories that illustrate how deserving the 2020 regional principal award recipients are:

Region 5 POY – Molly Yerkes

Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School Principal Molly Yerkes has been named Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals Region 5 Principal of The Year. Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School is a grade 6-8 school in the Juneau School District.

“In the thirteen years, I have worked with Ms. Yerkes she is always an advocate for her students to obtain a rigorous and meaningful educational experience. She achieves a careful balance between challenging expectations and fostering an environment where students love learning,” says Yvonne Welch. “Not only is Ms. Yerkes exceptional working with students, families, staff members and community organizations during the school day, in addition she puts in the extra time to interact with students outside of school time. She can often be found in the evenings at volleyball games, wrestling tournaments, site council meetings, and school dances.”

Kristy Germain, interim principal for Floyd Dryden, worked as Assistant Principal at DMHS and agrees.

“Ms. Yerkes is in classrooms much more than she is ever in her office. She knows students’ needs because she has observed the students in the classroom, hallways, and lunchroom and has gotten to know them at more than a superficial level,” says Germain.
Principal Yerkes has been with the Juneau School District for more than 20 years, half of those as principal at Dzantik’i Heeni. She holds a Masters in teaching, public administration and educational leadership from the University of Alaska and is fluent in Spanish. She was also tapped by Juneau Superintendent Dr. Bridget Weiss to take on the role of District Extended Learning Coordinator.

Principal Yerkes is a 2013 Millikan Educator Award recipient, a prestigious recognition honoring top educators from around the country.

“Quite honestly I really believe in public education and in equity and that it can open doors for every child,” said Yerkes of the award.

Region 6 POY – Richard Smith

North Pole Middle School Principal Richard Smith has been named Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals Region 6 Principal of The Year. North Pole Middle School is in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.

Principal Richard Smith has weathered many storms through more than a decade as principal of North Pole Middle School, but his steady approach and willingness to accept mistakes and redirect is a calming presence for students, teachers and parents alike. Though his straightforward honesty and dignity isn’t always popular, it has gained him the respect of everyone who knows him.

“He has the ability to de-escalate nearly any situation, whether it be a student out of control, an irate parent, or a teacher who hasn’t had enough coffee for the day,” says Assistant Principal Holly Cervin. “His calm demeanor has helped me immensely as an assistant principal, giving me an example to follow when dealing with student discipline.”

Staff say his focus on students helps him to lead a large middle school.

“Rich has been a role model administrator at North Pole Middle School,” says Randy Smith Middle School Principal Dave Dershin. “He views all decisions through the lens of the question: ‘Is it good for kids?’”

His staff says he can always be found chatting with students in the cafeteria, moving in and out of classes, or working with teachers to better their teaching practice. Most recently he coordinated with a partner middle school staff on a training visit to community organizations that support homeless youth.

And he isn’t afraid to ask hard questions or demand high standards.

“He is admirable in his dedication to upholding the school’s mission,” says Jan Eide, North Pole Middle School.

Region 7 POY – Robin Jones

Chief Ivan Blunka School Principal Robin Jones has been named Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals Region 7 Principal of The Year. Chief Ivan Blunka School is a Pre-K through grade 12 school in the Southwest Region School District.

Next year Principal Jones will start her eighth year as the principal at Chief Ivan Blunka School and those that work with her highlight that she brings endless passion to everything she does.

“Whether she is running a weekend basketball tournament, leading district trainings, cooking food for community gatherings or advocating statewide for equity in rural schools, she puts her heart and soul into providing the best education possible for all students and the best work environment possible for all staff members.” says Assistant Principal Meghan Redmond. “Her skill at loudly cheering on and recognizing her staff and students for their excellence and achievements, while also quietly and confidently inspiring and encouraging everyone to constantly do their best, is unparalleled.”

Her staff agree that her success in making the school a fun, welcoming place for all is reflected in a 100 percent staff retention rate over the past two years.

Principal Jones is a leader, not only at Chief Ivan Blunka School but also through her service as current President of AASSP and of ACSA where she advocates for public schools at both a state and national level and through daily social media promotions. She is currently pursuing a superintendent endorsement through the Alaska College of Education at the University of Alaska Southeast.

Region 8 POY – Jason Marvel

Wasilla High School Principal Jason Marvel has been named Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals Region 8 Principal of The Year. Wasilla High School is a public secondary school in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District.

“Jason Marvel is by far the best principal I have ever worked for,” says Wasilla High School Biology and Chemistry teacher Melinda Ragsdale, who has been teaching at the high school level for more than ten years. “He makes his staff feel valued, appreciated and supported and his students respect and love him because he is very attentive and professional. His interactions are genuine and make everyone proud to be a part of our school.”

Despite the fact that he was the head boys basketball coach at both Wasilla High School from 2003-2007 and Palmer High School from 2008-2013, Marvel sets his priorities firmly in academic achievement.

“Entering this year as the principal of Wasilla High School, I knew that we needed to re-brand. WHS has always had an identity as being highly successful in athletics. Athletics cannot be a school brand,” said Principal Marvel. “We needed to tell the true story of Wasilla High School, its rich diversity of students and high-quality programs.”

Principal Marvel set a standard of having staff greeting students as they arrived at school in the morning, in the hallways before class and throughout the day. He also created a predictable set of responses to behavior that everyone uses so students know exactly what to expect from their community.

“I subscribe to the belief that structure and predictability are good for all students, regardless of socio-economic status, family background or life circumstance,” Marvel says. “Being a trauma-informed/trauma-sensitive school means you provide structures that are fair and equitable, have a shared belief that ALL students can achieve at a high level, and build habits of success into school-wide curriculum.”

Regional Principals of The Year are eligible to be in the running for the statewide Alaska Principal of The Year.