Eagle's View Elementary Achigaalux is searching for a new principal.
Joanna "JJ" Hinderberger resigned last month after two years with the school.
KUCB's Laura Kraegel spoke with her about why she's taking a new job at the Mendenhall River Community School in Juneau.
JOANNA "JJ" HINDERBERGER: I really love my current job, and I am very sad to leave it. But due to having my family in southeast and really missing them, I have chosen to pursue that. So I officially resigned from my position and have since gone through the interview process for a principal position in Juneau and have accepted that. Now, as of this summer, I will move back to southeast and take on that new journey.
KUCB: I want to come back to that new journey — that new position. But first, I wanted to read a quote of yours from the Juneau Empire newspaper, which covered your hiring process. Their story reports that you told the Juneau hiring committee, "I absolutely love my current job," referring to your job here in Unalaska. You said, "The only reason I'd leave it is to come here and be near my family and my home."
HINDERBERGER: It truly is bittersweet. When I told the staff [at Eagle's View,] I was really upset about it. And I know that I'm making the decision to move, but it's really hard. This community is so wonderful. I absolutely love the kids. If I could take my current job and move it with me to southeast or convince my family to move here, I would in a heartbeat. I really do love my job, and so it truly is, you know, looking forward to getting back to my giant family.
KUCB: Unalaska does have a good number of longtime educators. But the school district still deals with turnover just like the rest of rural Alaska — and Alaska at large. How would you recommend the district try to hold on to folks like yourself for longer?
HINDERBERGER: I think that's such a good question. Really, I don't have a better answer than just my family being here. I mean, everything else in terms of working for the Unalaska school district is amazing. I feel like this really is a dream job, and the next person who gets lucky enough to have it — they are in for it, because it's so wonderful. So really, there is nothing that I would change in terms of work conditions or anything else that would make this job more desirable. I think that's part of why it is so hard to leave — that I know how great it is. I am really excited because I do think that, you know, in part of me leaving and feeling awful about leaving and feeling sad for leaving the community, I just think, "Wow, what a great opportunity this is going to be for the next person."
KUCB: The district is working now on finding that next person. What qualities do you think they'll need in order to be a good fit for the school?
HINDERBERGER: I think, to have it be a good fit for the school, you have to first recognize that institutional knowledge that comes with Eagle's View. There is a great blend of teachers that have been here for many, many years and some new folks. So I thinking going into it knowing that anytime a principal steps into a position — the same case with myself going into Juneau — you don't come in as the expert. That those folks that have been here for a long time — or even a few years, it's still a few years more than you. And that there are systems in place and reasons for certain things that you can't just go into thinking that those aren't important or that you don't know about them. So I think the most helpful characteristic of a new principal in a school is just being willing to listen and ask questions and recognize that there are people that have had different experiences than you — and to learn from those. I think that's really exciting, and if you're willing to do that, then it's going to be a great experience for everybody.
KUCB: We've been talking a lot about how your departure intersects with the way things are here in Unalaska. But tell me more about what's next for you. What is drawing you to this new position as the principal at the Mendenhall River Community School?
HINDERBERGER: The reason I am interested in this particular school is that before I moved here, I actually worked on a grant for something called "KinderReady" in Juneau, where it was a program to get a public preschool for students. The grant was fulfilled right when I left. So they actually opened two of these classrooms, and one of them is housed in this school. So that's really interesting to me — to see how it all came together. On top of that, my experience with special education is something that draws me to this school. They're host of a few different programs. And then there's a very strong community in the school, and that's something that's really important to me, especially in Juneau. There are options for teachers [in Juneau.] They can transfer to other elementary schools, right? They still work for the same district. [But] there are teachers that have chosen to stay at this particular school for many years. To me, that is really admirable and that's something I want to be a part of. What draws somebody to stay at a school when there are plenty of options to transfer? Or transfer grades or whatever it may be? I'm very intrigued by that.
KUCB: Thank you, JJ, for speaking with me. Before I let you go, any final thoughts or further ideas that you'd want to share with the community? With the teachers and families and students that you've been working with?
HINDERBERGER: My biggest message is just "thank you." I really feel like I have so much gratitude for this place, this community —I feel like it's just pouring out of me. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to move here and be a part of such a wonderful thing. Recognizing that this was my first principal job, I think that I wouldn't be the principal that I am had it not been [for] this community. So I just thank everyone involved for supporting me. [Superintendent] Mr. [John] Conwell has been a great coach for me, and I really appreciate that, as well as the amazing staff and families. All of those interactions I've had with people, I have learned something from. All of those have set me up to be able to have more opportunities, so I just really appreciate everybody here and the opportunity to be a part of it.