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KIBSD celebrates service, retirees

KIBSD celebrates service, retirees
By Noelle H. Lowery
The May 22 regular meeting of the Kodiak Island Borough School District Board of Education was one filled with bittersweet remembrances, laughter and a few tears.
During the meeting, the BOE and KIBSD administration spent more than an hour recognizing staff and faculty members who are celebrating their 25th and 30th years in education and those retiring from the district as the 2016-2017 school year comes to a close.
The honors began with remembrances of those marking 25 years in education.  East Elementary Principal Jennie Schauff spoke about first grade teacher Tamara Hocum, who has been at East for the last 14 years.  “There is not a day that she has not come into my office and celebrated one of her students,” Schauff remarked.  “She brings joy to teaching every day.  Everything she does is in the interests of our students.  It is an honor to work with you.”
Incoming Superintendent Larry LeDoux spoke about the 25 years that Mel LeVan spent in the classroom at Kodiak High School.  In fact, he called three of his four sons — who sat through LeVan’s Calculus and Chemistry classes — to ask them what they would say if they could attend the meeting.  One of them said, “(Mr. LeVan) treats students with respect…He constructs knowledge in a way that works for (students).”  Another said, “(Mr. LeVan) let kids learn in their own way…He let them find the path that worked for them.”  LeDoux noted that his youngest son went on for 20 minutes about how LeVan “helped make things real for students.”
As he closed his commemoration of LeVan, LeDoux emphasized that everything his sons mentioned “described a master teacher.”  “It is a great honor to present (this recognition) to him,” he added. “(Mr. LeVan’s) legacy is his kids.”  LeVan will take the helm as KHS principal in the 2017-2018 school year.
Main Elementary Principal Angie Chervenak offered an acrostic poem to honor her school’s beloved secretary Robin Killeen for her 25 years of service, which have included work at KHS, Kodiak Middle and KIBSD Central Office.  “Robust.  Omniscient.  Benevolent.  Invincible.  Nimble…All of these (characteristics) are required to work in an elementary school,” Chervenak said of Killeen.  “The district owes you a big round of applause.”
Praises also were sung for Port Lions School aide Georgia Kramer, who Rural Schools Principal Kendra Bartz characterized as the school’s go-to Jack-of-all-trades.  In her 30 years in Port Lions, she has done everything from helping students with their assignments to maintaining the school building and grounds.  “She was a lifesaver to me in Port Lions 10 years ago,” Bartz remembered.  “She is someone we really cannot replace.”
Long-time Rural Schools teacher Bruce Adams added: “Everybody loves Georgia.  We really appreciate her, and are very happy to have her here.”
BOE President Bob Foy took a moment to applaud the service of those recognized.  “This really says something about the district and your integrity as educators…Without you guys, there is no base for what we do and what this district is trying to do,” he said.
Next, the retiring faculty and staff members took center stage, beginning with KHS Psychology and History teacher Carla Lam.  While Lam worked in Rural Schools and as a curriculum coordinator within KIBSD, she found her home at KHS.  “She always opens her door and welcomes students,” said KHS Assistant Principal Neil Hecht.
Lam thanked Hecht, the BOE and KIBSD administration: “Kodiak will go with me when I go.”
Jennifer Eubank spent 20 years serving the students of KIBSD, and the district’s soon-to-be Director of Special Education Geoff Smith worked alongside her for some of them at KMS.  “Jennifer amazes us in her advocacy for students and parents, her dedication to training new teachers and aides, and developing the new way to create IEP programs for students,” Smith noted.
“I have loved working with the kids and for the kids and with and for this community,” Eubank told the BOE.
Main Principal Chervenak took the microphone again to pay tribute to fourth-grade teacher Kristie Wall, who taught for more than 30 years in KIBSD classrooms.  Chervenak praised Wall’s final culturally-infused class project, which included a two-week lesson about Alaskan Native cultures and culminated in each child creating an Alaskan Native doll.
“(Kristie) really goes above and beyond to make cultures of Alaska real for students,” she explained.  “Thank you for what you have given the kids.”
East Principal Schauff had two retirees to recognize, KIBSD Instructional Support Coordinator  Christy Lyle and East Kindergarten Teacher Susan Patrick.  “I’ve known (Christy) for many many years; she taught my oldest son,” Schauff said of Lyle.  “She is one of those teachers who touches the hearts of our kids…She always has the best interest of our teachers and students in mind.”
Patrick taught and loved more than 765 East Elementary Kindergarteners during her 30 years as a teacher.  “I don’t know if there is anyone in this district that doesn’t know Mrs. Patrick,” Schauff stated.  “What we have seen in the last month with her former students coming back to open time capsules they made with her more than 20 years ago…It has been quite an honor to see all of the lives and people she has taught and touched…I don’t know how East is going to function without her next year…She really is the hearthstone of our school and makes East a better place.”
As an added honor, East faculty, staff and students named the hallway where Patrick’s classroom was located “Susan Patrick Avenue.”
“I’ve been in the classroom since 1975,” Patrick remarked.  “I started teaching Sunday School in my village.  That is where I built my passion for children; the biggest part has been those children.  I’ve loved every one of them…I had some challenging ones, but they made me learn.  We put our hearts into our jobs because we love the kids…Now, it’s time to start being a grandma…Thank you for allowing me to have a great career hear at KIBSD.”
Though in Kodiak just one year, Dennis Clarkson made his mark on KIBSD as the director of Special Education.  Clarkson spent 35 years working in education in Montana before spending the last 10 years in various Alaskan school districts.  
Current KIBSD Superintendent Stewart McDonald thanked Clarkson for his “tremendous knowledge, experience and background” which helped district officials complete a much-needed transition for the Special Education Department.  “A person of your experience, stature, education, background in the state of Alaska and in rural Alaska and in many of the different districts of this state doesn’t come along very often,” added McDonald.  “Thank you for your guidance, and thank you for the work.  I truly appreciate the sacrifice you made to come here and steer us through this work.”
McDonald also celebrated the 25-year career and retirement of AKTEACH Director Phil Johnson.  A graduate of KIBSD, Johnson began his career in Rural Schools, eventually heading it up and incorporating the “one school” concept for Kodiak’s eight rural village schools.  He also pioneered digital distance learning for the district through AKTEACH.  
“He has become a national speaker for indigenous education and an expert on distance education,” McDonald told the BOE.  “He is the face of digital education in our rural sites…The work you leave behind for the kids is phenomenal.”
McDonald added: “If the rule got in the way of educating kids, he was the first to question it.  He’d ask how do we change it and make it work for kids…He would break the system and make it work for kids rather than break the kids to make the system work.”
Johnson reminisced about his early days as a teacher in Old Harbor, where it all began.  “Thank Old Harbor for 13 years of raising me and my family,” he said.  “Thank you to my Rural Schools family and my Kodiak family.  It has been a wonderful experience.  I will forever be a product of this community.”
Finally, McDonald paid homage to retiring Assistant Superintendent Marilyn Davidson, who began her more than 40-year KIBSD career as an elementary school music teacher.  “I suspect she was born an educator and was teaching dolls somewhere in a room as a child,” he quipped.  “She is literally at every moment an educator.”
“Marilyn, you have been my mentor,” he went on.  “You have pushed me when I needed to be pushed.  You have pushed others when they needed to be pushed.  You have never been afraid to tell people what they may have been afraid to hear.  You are impossible to replace, and no one is even going to try.”
Teary-eyed, Davidson bid the BOE, McDonald, her colleagues and KIBSD students and families adieu: “Thank you for everything.  Thank you for the wonderful opportunities I have had.  Thank you for the memories.”