Meet Joanna Hinderberger, Unalaska's New Elementary School Principal
Unalaska has welcomed a handful of new community leaders in the last few months.
That includes Joanna "JJ" Hinderberger, the new principal at Eagle's View Elementary Achigaalux.
KUCB's Laura Kraegel sat down with Hinderberger to ask how she's settling in to her first full-time job as a principal.
JOANNA HINDERBERGER: I love it. I absolutely love it. When I first got my degree, I thought, "Well, this is something that I'll just wait [on,] because I love teaching." But then as I was doing my practicum, I realized I really liked it. And the reason why I liked it so much was that I could interact with so many students on a daily basis.
As a classroom teacher, I loved my class and I loved those students, but those were the only students that I got to see. So part of what I love about Eagle's View Elementary is that I can go into all of the classrooms — I get to know all of the kids — within such a short period of time.
KUCB: So far, in your short period of time at Eagle's View, where do you see room for improvement?
JH: One thing that I'm really passionate about is the idea that everything can always improve. And really, I think a lot of that comes from collaborating with one another and learning from what other people are doing. I don't think, by any means, that I come in with the secret or the answer or the silver bullet.
But I think just providing opportunities for staff members to collaborate, find out what works well, and [see] if they can share it with other people … I think, 'How can we work together to make our school that much better? And what areas do we see that want to improve sooner than others?' It's not necessarily my decision to make, but [it's] within our staff, so we're working on that right now. Gosh, yeah, I just think there's a lot of opportunity to improve everything.
KUCB: You were born and raised in Alaska. Off the road system, no less. That's pretty rare. So many of our educators come from outside. How does your background help you in your line of work?
JH: Certainly, I'm a product of the Alaska public education system. I was born in Juneau. I went to elementary school and high school in Haines. It was a similar school district as to here where it was one class from preschool all the way to high school graduation. Just in terms of having that perspective as a student, I'm able to relate to students in this same environment.
And just life in a small town. How important the school is as a resource for the community and as kind of a hub. So much of what we do in our job has to do with [the fact that] we're all people. So I think my experience of living in Alaska, living with the weather, [and] living in remote places just helps bring more of an ability to connect with others. And have an understanding of what might be challenging and how to cope with it.
KUCB: What are your impressions of the island so far? Outside of school?
JH: Being from Alaska and having said that, I can also say that this is like no other small Alaska town that I’ve been to. It's very different from southeast Alaska, and I mean that in a very positive way. The diversity that's in this community is phenomenal and like nothing I've experienced. In southeast, I'm more familiar with tourism running the industry and economy, so the fact that there are restaurants and hotels open year-round is new to me!
I love hiking and running and being outside, so I'm so relieved about the fact that there are no bears or moose, which I've been dealing with my whole life. I love to see them from my car or from my house. But it's really nice to be able to go [outside] by myself and not feel like I need to carry bells and bear spray and make a lot of noise. I really love that. Yeah, there's a lot to like about this place.
KUCB: The last elementary principal was with the district for almost 20 years. How long do you see yourself in Unalaska?
JH: I think that it's really important to have continuity and stability. I have no intentions of going any time soon. I absolutely love my job. I feel like it's the best-kept secret, this school. I wake up in the morning and I am so excited to come here, and I can't say that that's been the case for other jobs that I've had. This is very unique. Everyone is so kind. You walk in the door and people greet you. The teachers are phenomenal. They're so nice to work with. The kids are very nice. This is a dream job and it's a fantastic place to be, so I have no intentions of leaving anytime soon.