Homer was once a place Kari Dendurent came for vacations. Now, as Homer Middle School’s principal, the southern peninsula has become her home.
“Since I moved to Alaska, we’ve come to Homer on weekend trips, to go fishing,” said Dendurent. Now that she and her partner, Jared Kane, are residents, Dendurent said, “We love it. Homer is like a vacation to us.”
That enthusiasm extends to her role as the HMS top administrator.
“My professional goals are to brand our school as a top-notch school,” said Dendurent. “That includes having a great school climate, pride, high academic achievement, parent involvement and community support and involvement.”
To put a grade on how well that’s going, Dendurent looked around at the school’s 187 students (10 more than projected) and their parents, 15 teachers, five paraprofessional educators and a half dozen support staff.
“I am very impressed with the caliber of the teaching here and the experiences people bring into the classroom,” said Dendurent. “Students are engaged. We’re a five-star school. Overall, the students are extremely polite. A lot are involved in activities, whether student activities or art or playing hockey in the community. And the parents are very approachable.”
Approachable also could describe Dendurent. She was at the head of the school’s float in Homer High School’s homecoming parade, beside Demon, a striking black and white husky and the spitting-image of the school’s Husky mascot, and Jaime Sylva, with a brown and white version of Demon. Behind them was a crowd of seventh- and eighth-grade students dressed in the school’s colors of blue and white and displaying so much energy the HMS float was named “Most Enthusiastic” by the judges.
Originally from Oregon, Dendurent was 9 years old when she moved to the Matanuska Valley area with her mother, Carol, also an educator. Dendurent graduated from junior and high school in Houston. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Central Florida, where she is currently working on her doctorate in educational leadership.
Dendurent has been the assistant principal at Houston High School, at Palmer High School and at a high school and middle school in Florida.
By the time Dendurent discovered the principal position had opened at Homer Middle School, it had already closed. Then it reopened. And here she is.
On the first morning of the 2013-2014 school year, she told faculty, staff and students in the school’s gym that she wanted to hear a shout of school spirit loud enough to be heard all the way to Fat Olives, a local restaurant several blocks away. Her enthusiasm for Homer Middle School hasn’t let up since then.
“We’re really trying to brand that we’re Homer Huskies,” she said of building strong school pride.
State test scores from last year gave HMS a five-star rating, but Dendurent said there are challenges ahead with new state standards.
“Testing is going to look a little different … so while the students are still performing, the results and data may be skewed because the measurements are different,” she said. “We’re working with parents, letting them know what that really means.”
In addition to academic achievement, student involvement is encouraged in sports and activities at school and in the community. Parental involvement in the school also is encouraged and Dendurent said she is “reminding teachers that there’s a list of parents that want to volunteer. … The biggest thing is we want people to feel very comfortable and welcome coming into our school.”
Giving teachers an opportunity to bring ideas to the table also is important to Dendurent. Darcey Mueller, the school librarian, will host TED (technology, entertainment and design) talks on the second Tuesday of the month, open to students, parents and the community. Quest and yearbook teacher Rand Seaton and his students are working with Haven House to create photographic montages that explore alcohol abuse.
“I think what’s really happening is that teachers are saying they want to do something and I’m saying we’ll do whatever we can do to support it,” said Dendurent.
Supporting Homer’s artistic spirit is another commitment Dendurent had made. Working through Bunnell Street Arts Center’s artist-in-the-schools program, Eddie Wood will do a two-week salsa dance workshop that wraps up with a celebration the Friday before Thanksgiving.
Today the school is participating in the Great Alaska ShakeOut, an earthquake preparedness drill. The school’s first music concert is Oct. 22 at Mariner Theatre. Parent-teacher conferences are Oct. 24-25. And Dendurent is going to be a judge of a chili cook-off sponsored by First Student, the district’s transportation contractor, on Oct. 30.
Dendurent and Kane recently purchased a 22-foot Sea Sport, have “been checking out the fishing grounds” and Kane took second place in the Elks recent winter king salmon derby. The couple also is looking forward to cross country skiing, love to go four-wheeling and enjoy camping and hunting.
During the day, however, Dendurent can be found at Homer Middle School, “in the hallways and greeting students in the morning, in the afternoon being accessible. And because I also do discipline, I want to make sure the kids know my office isn’t just about discipline. It’s about leadership and academics,” she said.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at email@example.com.