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Wilson leaves UCSD after decades with the school district

UCSD's Superintendent Jim Wilson in front of his office at school.
Sofia Stuart-Rasi
UCSD's Superintendent Jim Wilson in front of his office at school.

Superintendent Jim Wilson is stepping away after 21 years with the Unalaska City School District.

Wilson served as a teacher, coach, principal, and superintendent over his tenure. Kim Hanisch will take on the superintendent role in July.

Before Wilson goes, he sat down with KUCB’s Sofia Stuart-Rasi to talk about his long career on the island — and how he first got started as a teacher.


JIM WILSON: I think like a lot of folks, you have some inspiration early on in life. I was raised by a single mom and had a junior high teacher who was a big influence on me. As I made the decision to go to college, I just really thought back on those moments in my life that were most meaningful. And it was Mark Latrielle, was his name. He kind of inspired me to be a teacher. He's one of my first mentors, and I still stay in touch with him and am very thankful for him encouraging me to enter the profession.

KUCB: Why did you want to move to the principal position?

WILSON: I wouldn't say I wanted to at first. I really loved teaching and loved working with kids in that capacity. But I was encouraged to by another one of my mentors, [former Unalaska superintendent] John Conwell. I think sometimes, like all of us, they see leadership in us before we see it in ourselves. So I never looked at myself as being an instructional leader. But he encouraged me to pursue my master's degree in administration. And so I did. When the position came open, I was hesitant to apply for it. But again, he encouraged me to apply for it. And so I did. I went through the interview process and really found it rewarding. It was a chance to work with teachers in a different format and work with the community in a different way. And it really helped him mentor young teachers the same way that you mentor, you know, students. And just really help the school to grow, you know, what I hope was in a positive direction.

KUCB: And then you moved to be superintendent.

WILSON: Yeah, that was unexpected. But I've always been raised to help where you can. And so I wasn't expecting to be superintendent. I'd gotten my superintendent's endorsement maybe six or seven years ago. Again, John Conwell encouraged me to get my superintendent endorsement. I completed the degree to be able to really become a better principal at first. It helps you have a better understanding of the school. And it did — it helped me a lot. I had no intention of being a superintendent, and then this year, you know, the school found themselves in need. And so, I think I was able to help provide some stability to the community and stability to the school — and hopefully leave the school in a little bit better place.

KUCB: So you're retiring. What are you going to miss most?

WILSON: I've thought about that a lot lately. I think it's just the relationships. Relationships with staff members, community members, kids — it really, truly is a family environment. I think like any organization where you’re there for a long time, you just get to know everybody. It's always scary to leave. But it's that time. We need to be down south to help take care of family and want to be closer to our kids a little bit. One of my kids is going to stay here, actually, to teach. But, you know, just really the relationships we’ll miss the most. We built some really positive relationships here.

KUCB: So how does that feel? Not only were you able to create a legacy here, but also with your children. Because they're following you along to some extent — going into the education field, and one of them is actually going to come here.

WILSON: It's really rewarding. I've tried to raise my children to always give back to other people, and that's just who they are. That's not me. But so, it is. You know, to see them enter a profession that I have a lot of pride in. I always tell folks, that to me, it's the most rewarding profession you could imagine. Being able to see kids grow and help them learn, whatever the topic is. So I'm happy that they're finding a way to give back to their community, and to recognize that in giving back, it's about more than just them. It's about helping other people to foster and do better as well.

KUCB: Can you tell me what are your most memorable moments?

WILSON: I think seeing the community pull together — and that’s in good, and also in tragedy. You know, I think that's something this community does very well, is support one another. And so whether it be, you know, a state championship for a team, or somebody's college graduation, or if there's a community member in need, for whatever reason. Just seeing the community pull together and support one another. I’ve always told folks that I've never lived in a place like this. Where people — just truly — they’re so busy that sometimes you wonder if they have the time to do much of anything, because they're working so much. But when the time comes, they set all that aside. They know that family and relationships and friends and community is the most important thing. And they put that above all else. So it's a pretty special place.

KUCB: So we're going to kind of change it a little bit. For folks that don't know, Kim [Hanisch] — we did interview her and got to get to know her a little bit. We shared the story. What do you want to say about her taking on your role?

WILSON: Yeah, Kim is amazing. She is going to be an incredible leader for this community. She's thoughtful, she's compassionate. She's so knowledgeable about educational issues that I know she's going to do wonderful. I'm really happy that we had the chance to work together for the last month or so. And we're still in communication on a daily basis. I just think the community should be very proud of the hire of the school board. I think she is going to be a wonderful superintendent, and will do a great job leading the district forward.

KUCB: And so where do you see UCSD going in the future?

WILSON: That'll be up to the community and up to Kim and her leadership. I think once you leave, you don't get a whole lot of say in that. But what I think they'll continue to do — you always want to look at: What are the needs of your students? That's why we're in this job. How do we best prepare our students for the future. And so, there's a new state test out there, the Alaska STAR test. I would anticipate they're going to be evaluating the data from the Alaska STAR test, making recommendations for instructional changes or adaptations to be able to better meet the needs of our students. And I know that is something that Kim is passionate about — and that's what we should all be passionate about as educators is, how do we help our kids to have the very best future they can? And she's a great leader to move the district forward in that respect.

KUCB: What are your plans during retirement?

WILSON: I get asked that question a lot. I don't know if it's retirement or if it's just a break. I think that we – my wife and I – both know we're going to work again, but it's just time to decompress. It's been a hard four or five years. There's been a lot of challenges due to tragedy here on the island, COVID, just a lot of things. So it's time to reconnect with family, it's time to reconnect with friends, see a little bit more sunshine. And then we'll reevaluate after a year or two, and we'll see what comes. But we bought a truck and a fifth wheel. We're gonna hitch it up, hit the road, and see where life brings us.

KUCB: Is there anything else that you would like to say that I didn't ask?

WILSON: I would just like to thank the community. Really, from day one, I remember moving in here before the Fourth of July parade in 2002. And the community has just really embraced me and my family and made us feel as though, you know, we had a home — and not every place does that. So just thank you to the community and all the parents and all the students. It really is an incredible place to live. We’ll hopefully come back and visit at some point in time. And I just wish everybody the best.

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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