Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 4:22 PM on Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Fireweed's principal-hiring process questioned

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

Parents, teachers and students crowded into the library at West Homer Elementary School Monday morning to watch interviews with two finalists in the recruitment for a Fireweed Academy principal.

The interviews surprised supporters of Kiki Abrahamson, a founder of Fireweed, teacher, and, for the last two years, the school's acting principal. The charter school opened in 1997, with classes for grades three-six. It has since expanded to include kindergarten through second-grade.

Shawnisty Webber, president of the school's APC, academic policy committee, said at the close of the interviews that the committee would possibly select a new principal later that day; however, a decision was not made. In an email sent late Tuesday, the committee announced it will meet and vote at West Homer library at 6 p.m. today.

"Kiki is totally the heart of Fireweed. A lot of students won't want to come back without Kiki. You could say it's the Kiki Academy instead of the Fireweed Academy," said Jake Marquardt, who completed sixth grade at Fireweed in May and attended the Monday meeting. Jake said he had been receiving texts from former classmates also concerned about the situation.

Abrahamson does have a contract to be Fireweed's fifth- and sixth-grade language arts teacher for the 2012-2013 school year, but Jake said that wouldn't be the same.

"I'd much rather have her, if I was to go back to Fireweed, be the principal than teacher because it's not just part of the school that deserves her, it's kindergarten through second grade, third through fourth grade. They need to experience the awesomeness of Kiki," said Jake.

Jackie Eisenberg, mother of two Fireweed students, first learned of Fireweed's search for a principal on Sunday.

"What caught me off guard is that we have a weekly newsletter that Fireweed staff puts out and we're reminded of everything. Send winter gear, pack healthy lunches, the borough is looking for volunteers for the calendar committee. We would have expected, had there been an important administrative decision happening, that we would have received word in that format," said Eisenberg. "We received nothing."

Eisenberg said she found out via an email Abrahamson sent to the same distribution list as the newsletter.

"She described the process, that she was interviewed with other people and that she was informed on Friday at 5-something that she was no longer being considered for the position," said Eisenberg.

In Abrahamson's email, she said she received notification of her elimination from the process from Tim Peterson, the human resource manager for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

In response to questions from the Homer News, Pegge Erkeneff, communications specialist for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, said, "The Fireweed Academy Academic Policy Committee (APC) initiated an administrator search."

The administrator position was opened to applicants April 19, posted on the district's website and closed April 26. More than 25 applicants responded.

"The candidates were narrowed to seven by KPBSD Human Resources, and five were interviewed by the APC hiring committee," said Erkeneff. "Three candidates were brought forward to the APC for review. Two candidates then received an invitation for a second interview."

Brett Joachim of Newport, Wash., and Austin Stevenson of Anchorage were selected as the two finalists, with their interviews held Monday morning.

While the names of Fireweed's APC — comprised of two staff representatives, two parent representatives, two adult representatives for students and two community representatives — are posted on the school's website, information on the hiring committee, including their names, is not. Webber did say the hiring committee is comprised of volunteers, but those attending Monday's meeting said they were not aware of an opportunity to serve in that capacity.

When asked by the Homer News for the names of those on the hiring committee, Webber declined to provide them without approval from Peterson. When the names were requested from Peterson, he responded that the names of individuals on the hiring committee were not confidential; however, rather than provide the names, Dr. Steve Atwater, district superintendent, referred the Homer News back to the APC.

Kathy Vogl, whose children attend Fireweed, said she was aware Abrahamson was applying for the principal position, but Vogl thought Abrahamson's effort was just a formality.

"We were all very upset, shocked and confused," said Vogl of learning Abrahamson had been eliminated as a finalist.

According to Abrahamson's email, the reason she was given for not being selected was because Fireweed was going "in a different direction."

"We don't want a different direction," said Vogl. "I personally will consider taking my children out, not that that's the best solution, but we put them in Fireweed because it was different."

Following the interviews on Monday, Webber encouraged those attending to provide written comments on the finalists. Webber's announcement that the APC would possibly make a selection for the principal position that afternoon was met with strong criticism of the process.

"Kiki is the obvious choice for the principal now that they're formalizing that position," said Kary Brinson, whose two children attended Fireweed and who continues her role as a "volunteer parent."

Brinson viewed Abrahamson as "the backbone of Fireweed Academy. She's climbed every hurdle, swam against every tide to get us where we are today. I'm sure there are impressive resumes out there that are fine for principals of schools, but we don't need one. We already have one."

For the sake of future Fireweed students, Jake continues to hold out hope Abrahamson will be selected as principal.

"She's just basically like your mom at school. At least once or twice a day the students make the mistake of calling her 'mom,'" he said. "So if you lose Kiki from school, it's like losing your mom from your house. It's that big of a difference."

When contacted by the Homer News, Abrahamson declined to comment.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.