Principal recognized for decade of leadership at Kenai Middle
It’s a bit of a workplace cliché to say your coworkers are like family.
But at Kenai Middle School, staff say that's actually true.
“I would say KMS is legitimately a family," said Dixie St. John, the school's nurse.
She said that's because of Vaughn Dosko, the school's principal. Dosko was just named 2022 Principal of the Year for the Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals Region 3, which includes the Kenai, Chugach and Kodiak districts.
“His superpower is finding people that work together very well," added secretary Christie Holmes. "So he finds the right people that want the best for kids and the best for Kenai Middle.”
Vaughn said that's very deliberate. In the 16 years since he came to Kenai Middle School, he’s helped hire all but one of its current educators. And he said finding teachers that are good fits is a priority.
“All of the culture and that family environment and the things that Kenai’s been known for — when we have had a teacher retire or move out of state, we’ve gone out and found a person that fits that criteria that Kenai Middle needs," Dosko said.
Dosko's been at the helm of Kenai Middle for 11 years. Before that, he was the school's assistant principal, earning him an award from the Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals for his work in that role.
He's from Saskatchewan, Canada and first came to the U.S. for college, earning degrees in North Dakota and Idaho and landing his first teaching job there.
Then in 2000, a principal gig took him to the village of Tuluksak, near Bethel. He stayed for six years — longer than any administrator had before,.
“The village was a great place for me to learn and make mistakes in perfecting my craft," he said. "But it is different. Out there, you’re the mayor, you’re the veterinarian, you’re the doctor, you’re the everything at times, which I loved because it put a lot of responsibility but it makes you feel important. And I was ready for that challenge.”
Ken Felchle, Kenai Middle School's vice principal, thinks that experience in the bush has had a big impact on Dosko, motivating him to spare no effort making sure every student has opportunities. Dosko said his staff are tireless, sometimes working long days and sacrificing their personal lives to do the best for their students.
Felchle was a teacher at Kenai Middle for 25 years. He said his boss was an incredible supporter of educators at that time. And, ultimately, it was Dosko who encouraged him to pursue an administrative degree.
“I guess the biggest compliment to Vaughn is I would’ve never even considered it if he wouldn’t have been in that position or if it would’ve been at a different school," he said.
Last December, Felchle got his administrative degree. Dosko was his mentor throughout the three and a half years it took him to get there.
He said he’s still learning from him today.
“There’s very few things that I do in my job that I do not go to him first and say, ‘Hey, what do you think?’”
Neither Felchle or Dosko get as much time with the school’s 400-plus students as they’d like. They said that’s one of the downsides of working on the administrative side.
But you’ll still find Dosko out front by the buses in the morning or in the cafeteria at lunch.
“I intentionally do a lot in my day so I have that interaction," he said.
Being a school administrator these last two years has been challenging, too.
Dosko said he worked hard to keep up a sense of normalcy during COVID, continuing with some programming and electives while others schools and districts stopped.
"Some people would question whether we did it safely," he said. "I think we did it beautifully. Was there some learning curve? Yes. But our enrollment has increased and during that COVID time, our enrollment was awesome."
Amid the challenges brought on by COVID, plus national and local issues with teacher retention in Alaska, Dosko said having happy teachers is really important.
That’s where that family feel comes in.
“When somebody feels taken care of, then they’re willing to do whatever," Dosko said. "And I honestly believe you could ask any staff member in this building what they think, and they would probably reiterate everything you just heard, like, ‘This is a special place, we have something special.’ And it’s because of the people.”
St. John, the Kenai Middle nurse, agrees. She said Dosko never bats an eye when a teacher or student needs something.
“Every teacher, every person here I feel like bends over backwards because he does," she said. "And I think it just creates an environment that you want to do good. And do more than just good.”
Dosko will receive his award at the Annual Alaska Principals’ Conference in Anchorage this October.