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Melissa Haffeman comes home to be KMS principal

Melissa Haffeman comes home to be KMS principal
By Noelle H. Lowery

“Oh, to be home again, home again, home again!” — James Thomas Fields

This was Melissa Haffeman’s mindset as she and her family visited New Zealand last summer. After five-and-a-half years of living and working in education in the Lower 48, Haffeman and her husband, Mike, were searching for a place to settle down and raise their two young children, Alden and Sophie.

Again and again, her mind whispered, “Kodiak,” as her memory took her back to the 15 years she spent on the island.

So, in a little coffee shop in Port Chalmers, New Zealand, Haffeman told her husband she wanted to go home. “I thought it would be a hard discussion,” she remembers. “I had my mind made up that I wanted us to go home to Kodiak. I barely got the words out of my mouth when Mike interrupted and said, ‘Let’s go home to Kodiak.’ We were both so relieved.”

They shook on it, and Haffeman quickly set to work finding a position with Kodiak Island Borough School District. As fate would have it, Kodiak Middle School was looking for an assistant principal, and Haffeman fit the bill perfectly.
Within two months, Haffeman’s family was home. “Coming back home to Kodiak was a dream come true,” she explains. “Sometimes, memory can create an idealized version of a place; whereas, my family and I have found that the reality of Kodiak exceeds our happiest memories. We are grateful for the friends and community we are a part of, and the time away helped us gain perspective of how rare a community of this caliber really is with the resources, talent and inclusiveness we have in our town.”
Fast forward a year, and the dream continues as Haffeman preps for her first year as KMS principal. She was appointed principal for the 2017-2018 school year during the spring, after a lengthy vetting process that included interviews with a number of KMS staff members and new KIBSD Superintendent Dr. Larry LeDoux.

Haffeman is looking forward to the challenge of being a middle school principal. “I believe Kodiak Middle School should be reflective of our community’s values, direction and goals. It is my professional goal this year to listen to our staff, students, families and the community at large to help create a middle school of which we can all be proud.”

To be sure, she has been preparing for the principal’s office her entire 15-year career in education. She attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks and studied education with the original intent of going to law school. Instead, she found her true calling while working one-on-one with students at an after-school tutoring program. From that point on, she dedicated herself to helping students become successful and giving back to her community.

After graduation from UAF in 2002, she returned to Kodiak to teach sixth grade at Peterson Elementary, and spent the next six years in classrooms throughout KIBSD. In 2008, she moved to district-wide services, sharing her technology expertise and working as the district’s director of federal programs and assessment. Colorado College came calling in 2011, and Haffeman went to work there as the director of innovative technology. From 2014-2016, she became the director of instructional technology for the Bethel School District in Washington, where she spearheaded 1:1 iPad roll out for some 21,000 staff and students.

Haffeman credits these varied experiences for helping her easily adapt to being an administrator at KMS: “I’ve been fortunate to have both K-12 and higher education perspective, small and large district perspective, and an international perspective on education from my time in New Zealand in 2016. Most notably, my years in project management (2010-2016) have been invaluable. It is ingrained in me to gather all of the details, nuances, perspectives of a project, and develop a plan that is reflective of the goals of all stakeholders. The puzzle of that work is intriguing and a playground for my mind.”

The best part of the transition to administration for Haffeman has been working directly with students again. “Now, I know almost every middle school-aged kid on this island,” she says. “It’s enjoyable learning about their interests, talents, and working to build programs which engage them and serve our community.”
She is energized by the pace and caliber of work going on at KMS everyday both by the teachers and students. She embraces the knowledge, expertise and depth of experience of her teachers and staff to help guide her own work. She is in awe of the talent and dedication of these folks, of how much they care, and of how hard they work to connect with each other and their students.

In fact, as she prepared for her first school year as a principal, she turned to the KMS faculty and staff for their advice on goals for 2017-2018. The bottom line: “We want to promote a respectful climate for all at KMS, practice the art of teaching and inquiry driven academics, and establish a strong KMS school spirit for everyone in our building.”

Haffeman plans to spend her first year as principal co-developing a new vision for KMS and project planning for what the school’s stakeholders — faculty, staff, students, families, community members — want to see it grow into through the next three to five years. There may be scheduling changes, new courses offered, positive discipline programs, more student and parent input sought, or other changes. Whatever the outcome, she is looking forward to being a part of the process of refining KMS in the upcoming years.

She knows her learning curve lies in “coming to terms with the weight of the responsibility to help guide, keep safe, challenge and empower our community’s middle school students.” The gravity of what lies ahead for Haffeman hit her while she was watching the KMS choir concert right after she was appointed principal.

“I watched our students on stage performing for their families, and I was struck by how pivotal middle school is when kids are beginning to define themselves, yet are still so open to who they may become,” she recalls. “That the weight of our interactions with them, the environment we foster between supportive adults and from student to student is crucial in helping our community for years and years to come by encouraging our students to achieve their potential. It is an honor to play a role in this work.”

“This is a fantastic job,” Haffeman emphasizes. “I love my work.”