Story last updated at 4:13 p.m. Thursday, July 25, 2002

High School teacher takes principal post
by Carey James
Staff Writer

After 21 years as a teacher, and nine years as Homer High's math and physics instructor, Dick Sander will soon be solving different kinds of problems, like where little Jimmy's lunch box has gone, and how Sara managed to miss the school bus.

Sander is now "Principal Sander" to the students at Chapman School in Anchor Point, a position that opened when a domino effect of staff changes sent Greg Wilbanks to a Kenai school. Sander said he wasn't even looking for a principal position, but after spending a week at Chapman as a substitute principal last year, he fell in love with the small school setting.

"They have a lot of pride in their school," Sander said. "After I filled in, I thought, this would be one job I'd go for."

Sander said one of the appealing qualities of Chapman was illuminated when a small group of young readers visited him.

"Three little kids came up and took turns reading a story while we (Wilbanks and Sander) sat and listened. It was wonderful to listen to those kids reading, and they were so proud," he said. "That's when it hit me how fun it was to have all that excitement (about education)."

Sander said after so many years at a high school, he looks forward to working with younger students, although he said he loved his job at Homer High.

"In junior high school, all the kids are clustered around your desk," he said. "In high school, they are all glued to the back wall."

Sander said he earned his principal credentials in 2000 through the University of Alaska Anchorage. In addition to the formal training, Sander said, he's interacted with elementary teachers a great deal through his work on the math curriculum and has taught at the junior high school level, so he doesn't see those areas as daunting.

But his new role will likely present challenges he hasn't even thought of. He said there are many things he expects he will have to learn in the coming year, but he hopes to use his connections with other principals in the area when need be.

"I'm testing the water with both feet," he said.

Sander said with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's budget woes and the current contentious contract negotiations, being principal will mean dealing with lots of issues. But he said the Anchor Point community's pride in its school, and the advantages of the small school setting are positive factors that will help everyone through the coming years.

"I don't think the biggest school is the best. You can lay out great programs, but what it boils down to is 'are the students feeling successful, do the teachers care, are the students making good friendships and working together?'" he said. "That's why I got into teaching, and that's why I wanted to come (to Chapman.) I think these kinds of schools are something to really lobby for, and that's what I want to be a part of."