Bristol Bay Superintendent Bill Hill reflects on remarkable journey at the school
Bristol Bay Borough School District Superintendent Bill Hill said leading the school system in his hometown for a decade came with pros and cons.
“The blessing is that you get to work with and for the people you grew up with,” he said, laughing. “And then the curse is that you're also working for and with the people you grew up with.”
Hill is stepping down from the job at the end of the year, ready to welcome the new ideas and skill set of his replacement.
“The average tenure of a superintendent in the state of Alaska is just under two and a half years,” he said. “So, really, I've been in this position for 400% longer than the average superintendency.”
As Hill reflects on his years in education, he said he’s proud of the work he helped accomplish and didn’t take the decision to leave lightly. But he said it’s time for a change.
“Particularly over the last couple of years, it's definitely, definitely pushed my abilities to their limit,” he said. “As a superintendent, you really do put a lot of heart, energy and soul into the school district, and sometimes other things in your life may take a backseat.”
Hill’s home has always been Bristol Bay. He grew up in Kokhanok and his family moved to Naknek when he was in high school. After graduating college he taught at the school for several years before working in Juneau and with the Lake and Peninsula School District. Last fall the Alaska Superintendent Association named him the state’s superintendent of the year.
During his time in that position, he said he’s worked to strengthen partnerships with the borough and regional organizations like the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation and the Bristol Bay Career and Technical Education Program. Concrete changes during his tenure included major renovations to the school building.
“We took a school that was in desperate need of a lot of work, and over the course of several phases of construction turned the school into a very remarkable place,” he said. “I mean, it is ready for the next 20 or 30 years of service. It's bright, it's clean, it's ready to deliver education.”
Hill also calls the survival of the district's preschool program "remarkable," given the instability of education funding in recent years. Hill credits the combined efforts of employees like the school’s Early Learning Coordinator Esther Pepin, the borough, and other school districts.
Hill hopes the legislature changes its approach to education funding this session, saying that schools need an increase in the base student allocation — the baseline funding for school districts. Without it, he said, it’s difficult to plan ahead.
“We have lost, here at the Bristol Bay Borough School District, at least two amazing preschool teachers, because we couldn't guarantee they had a job the following year,” he said. “So the instability in education really does harm our student progress.”
Working in a small community comes with challenges; Hill said some of his long-standing friendships have frayed because of difficult discussions during the pandemic. But overall, he said, being superintendent was an amazing experience, and he appreciates working for his home community.
As for what’s next, Hill said he will stay in Naknek, where he wants to focus on spending time with family and will commercial fish this summer. He encouraged anyone who’s interested to consider education as a profession.
“Working with our communities' children is one of the most wonderful things on earth,” he said. “I hope that the Bristol Bay Borough School District just grows and flourishes. And Go Angels!”
The candidates to replace Hill are Iditarod Area Superintendent Helen Cheek, Lower Kuskokwim Principal Troy Poage, Bristol Bay Borough Principal and Assistant Superintendent Shannon Harvilla and Jim Smith, a superintendent and principal from Oregon. The Bristol Bay Borough School Board will hold interviews with the four superintendent candidates in Naknek on Feb. 16 - 17. The candidates will also tour the community, visit the school and attend a community candidate forum on Feb. 16.
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