Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 8:06 PM on Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pam Newton infuses energy in homer, high school

Kachemak Color

By Lindsay Johnson
Staff Writer

Editor's note: "Kachemak Color" features residents who make the communities of the southern Kenai Peninsula interesting. If you know of someone who you think would make a good story, call the editor at 235-7767.


Photographer: Lindsay Johnson, Homer News

Pam Newton stands in front of one of her eight quilts that hang in Homer High School. Newton is deeply involved at school, but still finds time to engage in many extracurricular sporting and artistic interests.

Anyone who has seen Pam Newton, a teacher, coach and the athletic director at Homer High School, on the job understands that she is good at what she does.

Newton, with her contagious laugh and quick wit, understands the challenges of high school students and athletes. She's been through her own to get to where she is.

It won't destroy her cred too much to note that Newton preferred the athletic aspect of school.

"That was really what my fascination with being in school was, team sports," she said.

Newton spent a year at Washington State University on a volleyball scholarship until she blew out her ankle in a match against the University of Idaho. She lost her scholarship with the injury and transferred to University of Idaho, near her hometown of Sandpoint, for a semester before moving to Homer, where she had visited prior to starting college.

She's been coaching in Homer for 27 years, starting with Alice Witte and the volleyball team when she moved to town in December 1983.

She's been with the school district for 16 years, but just became the high school athletic director last fall.

That was about the time she came out of her shy phase.

"I remember even as late as high school not being able to talk to adults. It made me so nervous. It has not been my style, probably until last year, to be outgoing, not outgoing but just willing to strike up conversation," she said.

"Now it is, which is weird. But it's part of what I have to do, so I do it. And it's enjoyable."

As AD, Newton does everything from custodial to management; she works with the administration; manages schedules for the teams; does scheduling for the gym, weight room, mat room or green room; manages student eligibility; organizes tournaments; and keeps track of team accounts.

"The tough thing being an athletic director in this district is it's a full-time job, but they're only given half-time to do it. You have to have someone who is very organized and willing to work obviously more than a regular workday to make that job successful. And she does," said HHS Principal Allan Gee.

"The kids will tell you, anything she can do to help them be a part of the sports programs, any of the extracurricular activities, she does. She really works hard at keeping them active and eligible."

HHS senior Ashley Ketelle said she enjoys being in Newton's classes, working as her aide and playing volleyball with her.

"She's a hoot. She's chock full of jokes, just always has something to say, her laugh is hilarious. She does her work well. She's really busy, but she still finds time to do things," said Ketelle.

Newton's trust and respect for students makes her very effective in class and in coaching, according to Ketelle.

"She's very good at volleyball. She would scrimmage with us sometimes and still has an amazing serve and hit. How she explains things, she did it in a really light-hearted manner. She did get stern to get the point across, but she made it fun," Ketelle said.

Newton started teaching at Homer High in 2002, when she transferred from Chapman School.

Sharon Thompson has taught next to Newton for her entire teaching career.

"She's an awesome colleague to have. She's enthusiastic, has a great sense of humor and she loves kids. She has a good heart."

Newton's record also shows she has a good mind.

"One of the things I feared during high school was math. As I got into college I thought, 'Well, that's a fear I don't need to have. I need to overcome that, figure it out and move on.'"

So she took a bunch of math classes, and ended up sticking with the subject. Inspired by the way her friend's father, a math professor, taught and interacted with the class, Newton decided she would like to do the same.

Newton earned her bachelors degree in math and education from Eastern Washington University in 1989.

"I try to inspire and encourage them to develop that section of the brain, which is terrifying for some. And I understand that. It was a monster for me for a while."

Her change of heart came by looking at the problem differently.

"There's a challenge in math. There's this open creative aspect to it that's fascinating," she explained.

Now she tells her students, "Face your challenges head on. Get after it, get a move on."

Newton generally teaches classes like algebra and computer applications. She recently took on yearbook, which poses a new set of challenges.

"It's the most exciting because it's ever changing," Newton said.

Outside of school, Newton keeps things fresh with a variety of extracurriculars, including fishing, gardening, quilting and traveling.

In four years, Newton will have had 20 with the school district, which opens the door to retirement and more possibilities for growth. She said she'll either work on a masters degree in the education field or something totally different, like electric or welding.

"In order to maintain energy and enthusiasm about what I'm doing, I need to do new things," she said.

Let that be a lesson to us all.

Lindsay Johnson may be reached at lindsay.johnson@homernews.com.