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Meet Kim Hanisch, Unalaska’s new superintendent

Kim Hanisch
Kim Hanisch
New superintendent Kim Hanisch stands for a portrait in front of Unalaska's high school.

The Unalaska City School District will have a new superintendent starting this summer.

Kim Hanisch was hired by the school board in February. Now, she’s on-island learning about the district and working on the transition with retiring superintendent Jim Wilson.

KUCB's Sofia Stuart-Rasi sat down with Hanisch last week to talk about her experience in education — and why she chose Unalaska.


KIM HANISCH: I was born and raised in South Dakota, and been up in Alaska for 22 years now. I've lived in a variety of parts of the state. Anywhere from the Bering Strait School District — so, Unalakleet, Koyuk, Elim — to the Fairbanks, Tok area. Kodiak. Currently in Anchorage. And I've spent time in Juneau. So I kind of understand the state as a whole, and am really excited to learn a lot more about Unalaska itself.

KUCB: Can you tell us more about your work experience that has prepped you to be UCSD superintendent? And what drew you to this position?

HANISCH: So work experience — obviously, I started as a teacher. High school biology was where I started. The next, I guess, shift in positions beyond the classroom was as statewide mentor in the new teacher program. That got me to start really thinking about systems in the variety of approaches that both teachers and leaders take throughout the systems. And then I went to a principal position in a K-12 school and again saw all new layers. Got me thinking a bunch. Started doing some consulting work through an organization called Re-Inventing Schools Coalition, and it was eventually purchased by Marzano Research. So that got me into districts throughout the nation, especially in the Lower 48, to see, again, all different types of leadership that was taking place. Amazing leaders that were leading transformational change — I was in their classrooms. So I just have had the experience and opportunity to be in thousands and thousands of classrooms throughout my career, to really get an idea of effective instruction and how it can be helped, fostered, grown at a systems level. Then I was director of instruction for Kodiak school district. So now, I started to see how the district worked — boots-on-the-ground viewpoint versus my consulting work. And then, of late, in addition to the consulting work, I've been with the University of Alaska Southeast in the educational leadership program, which is the program that helps aspiring leaders earn their type B certificate as well as a master's degree in leadership. Working with those interns in their schools in a variety of districts throughout the state to look at the challenges that they're faced, and help them figure out ways in which they can lead in meaningful ways.

KUCB: You said type B certificate — what is that?

HANISCH: Thank you. Type B is a certificate that's needed to be an administrator in the state of Alaska.

KUCB: Is there anything in particular that excites you about working and living in Unalaska?

HANISCH: Oh, there's lots that excites me about it. So when I got my superintendent endorsement, this last year, I really didn't enter that program thinking I wanted to be a superintendent. So I want to throw that out there. I really wanted to get better at preparing those that wanted their type B certificate, thinking the next layer that would strengthen my support with them. But the longer I was in the program, I started just getting more curious about it. Like, I wonder if I could do that? That sounds exciting. I didn't expect to see different parts of the superintendent position as exciting. So with all that, though, I was not 100% “I want any superintendent position.” So this spring, or I guess it’d be in December, I started looking at openings, knowing that it has to be a good fit. And for me, it would have to be smaller. It would have to be one that either is striving for excellence or has some pieces in place that I know I could build off of. I didn't want to jump into one that just needed a lot of fixing. Although that's easier to do, I really wanted to see if I could go from what's good to even better and lead in that fashion. So that's the work side that attracts me. What else attracts me is the size of the community — as I mentioned, small. And I love doing anything outside. And so I just stare around at everything I'm going to be able to experience and explore and engage in within the community, both the people and the land. And the water.

KUCB: How is the transition from Jim Wilson going? Is it still planned that you'll be taking over the position on July 1?

HANISCH: Yeah, the transition is amazing. So I can't say enough — for one, the board allowing this opportunity, and two, just the type of person that Jim is. And everything he's doing to make sure that I succeed, which, as he says, means the district and community succeeds. So he's fully vested in doing everything possible. We spend — I would say, out of an 8 to 10-hour workday, him and I are together for probably two thirds, if not more of that time, allowing me time to get in the classroom. He opens up the door for me to have one-on-one conversations with principals, with the special ed department, with the maintenance department — to let me get to know them and not have anyone feel hindered. So again, this experience is amazing. I sit there every night. Like, I cannot imagine showing up at the beginning of July and looking around saying, "What am I to do?" This experience is going to let me hit the ground running

KUCB: What do you see as the major priorities or challenges for UCSD right now? Is it the budget? Staffing? Student achievement in the wake of the pandemic? Something I didn't add?

HANISCH: I would say the budget obviously has an impact on all the other areas that you mentioned. So we can only hire so many teachers, we can only pay them so much, because the budget is constrained. I mean, there are challenges there. Jim, and the budget committee has done a great job of, again, letting us start off on a good foot. They've made some very thoughtful adjustments in the budget, but none of them are major cuts to programs — are things that will get in the way of student achievement. Could we do more with more? Of course. But the pieces are still there to work off of. So beyond the budget being a challenge, you know, I'm just starting to explore those layers. Where would I focus? You know, go to student achievement, then. I mean, that's our job — is to make sure that students achieve. So exploring how we could even have higher levels of achievement for all students. What are the groups of students that are struggling? How can we adjust instruction? Or is it staffing? So that those students achieve. While at the same time, those that are achieving — are they being challenged? And do they get to the highest level of achievement to set them up for the path that they have? So that's where I look. I mean, instruction is our job. So I want to start there first.

KUCB: Is there anything else that I haven't asked that you would like to share to listeners in the community?

HANISCH: Just to reiterate my excitement to be here as superintendent of Unalaska City School District. My intent is to get to know people, to engage in what the community is all about, and begin to understand why everybody says this is such an amazing place to live. I'm open if anyone wants to stop in and meet, to visit, stop me on the street, say hello. I'll just be looking forward to any opportunities to build those relationships.

Sofia was born and raised in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. She’s reported around the U.S. for local public radio stations, NPR and National Native News. Sofia has a Master of Arts in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism from the University of Montana, a graduate certificate in Documentary Studies from the Salt Institute and a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Arts from the University of Colorado Boulder. In between her studies, Sofia was a ski bum in Telluride, Colorado for a few years.
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