After 11 years as principal of Paul Banks Elementary School, Benny Abraham is hanging up his hat. Abraham has announced his plans to retire at the end of this school year.
Interviews will be held Feb. 28 with candidates for the principal position of the pre-kindergarten through second-grade school with an enrollment of 191 students.
"This is such a special school. A wonderful community," said Abraham, 63. "I've been blessed to be here."
Abraham and his wife, Vicki, are leaving Alaska to be closer to family members, including two grandchildren in Arkansas.
"We don't want to leave and not come back," said Abraham of departing the southern Kenai Peninsula. "We want to try to downsize if we can. We have a house we want to sell and we want to find another little place and maybe spend some summers up here."
Abraham attended school at the University of Arkansas and University of Central Arkansas. His experience includes supervising special education programs for the Arkansas Department of Education, as well as working at the school district level.
"I always wanted to come up here," he said of an interest in Alaska.
That opportunity came after his daughter graduated from college and married and Abraham was facing retirement from his work in Arkansas.
"I told my wife I wasn't ready to retire, let's go to Alaska if we can find the right place," he said.
That "right place" turned out to be Paul Banks Elementary School.
"We were fortunate the doors opened here and it's been a great 11 years," said Abraham.
Among Paul Banks' assets is a "staff that really, truly believes they have a responsibility for every child in this school being successful," said the outgoing principal. "That goes from our custodian in the lunchroom to our aides, from Debbie (Turkington, the school secretary) to everybody. ... You don't always see that at every school."
While intervention has recently become a focus at some schools, Abraham said it has been a long-standing focus at Paul Banks.
"That's something this staff, this school has been strong at. We try to look at every child and if there's any issue ongoing, someone is working with them," said Abraham.
Another of Paul Banks' strong points is the school's support from parents, something "you don't always see," said Abraham.
During more than a decade at the East End Road school, Abraham has seen development of an annual readathon that encourages the school's youngsters to sharpen their reading skills. Last year, it used a "pignapping" theme to spark enthusiasm. This year, communication with aliens from a newly discovered planet has the students reading toward a goal of 125,000 minutes between Jan. 22 and Feb. 19.
A half-day pre-kindergarten has been added during Abraham's tenure, with another half day added this year.
"We are trying to expand our early childhood services and preschool programs," said Abraham.
The school is one of several in the district that serves breakfast, as well as lunch. In 2007, Paul Banks received an Alaska PTA grant to provide healthy snacks. Prior to that, it qualified for USDA funding to provide a fresh fruit and vegetable snack program. The school's healthy environment, including the snack program, made it one of four in the district in 2012 to receive a bronze award from the USDA HealthierUS Schools Challenge.
"The (snack) program has really grown. We've always been thankful we could do that for our students," said Abraham. "Now's the time, when they're young, to start sharing with them information where they can make some healthy choices."
Paul Banks also has several programs that extend learning opportunities beyond class time, including an afterschool program offering as many as three activities. This year, between Feb. 11 and March 7, beginning sculpture, gymnastics and Pier One Theatre games and skills are scheduled. A Summer Activity Fair held at the school in the spring is a one-stop-shop for parents to learn what programs local organizations provide during summer months and to register their children in the programs of their choice.
A Family and Community Cafe will be held at the school from noon-4 p.m. Saturday. It is co-sponsored by the school's PTA and Best Beginnings, a public-private partnership to ensure all of the state's children begin school ready to succeed, and offers information on school readiness and numerous other topics.
"One of the things we look at as part of our school's goals is how we can do a better job with community involvement and so, one of the things we decided to do is pull all the agencies together that work with early childhood, early literacy," said Abraham.
"There will be a number of presentations, information on services available for children, early childhood development and learning."
As evident by the school's crowded multipurpose room on Saturday, Paul Banks Elementary School also sponsors a carnival for the area's younger population as part of Homer's annual winter carnival. In past year's Abraham has been a good-natured target for the pie-throwing competition that draws an eager crowd of youngsters. This year, he stepped aside and let youngsters take his place.
"Over the years, I've been fortunate to work with a lot of schools, a lot of teachers, but I'll tell anyone this: This is probably the best school with the strongest support staff and professional staff that I've worked with," said Abraham. "It's such a good school. I've been blessed to be able to be the administrator here."
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.