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Jenna Fabian ‘humbled to the core’ to be KPBSD principal of the year

Jenna Fabian in her office.
Riley Board
Jenna Fabian in her office.

Principal Jenna Fabian says she knows the first name of every student at Nikiski North Star Elementary. When it comes to last names, she says she’s at about 98%.

“The power of a name is so important. And making sure that kids hear their name, they hear that we’re so glad that they’re there, especially kids who come in late,” she said. “Oftentimes we’ll hear students that will say, “I’m so sorry I’m late.” Like, we are so glad you’re here, whatever time that is.”

Fabian was honored last week with the Alan Haskins Principal of the Year Award, from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. She’s the first ever recipient — Haskins, for whom the award is named, was the principal of Seward Elementary School and died this March from an ongoing struggle with heart failure.

Fabian worked at Seward Elementary for six years, and considers Haskins a key mentor in her life.

“To say I am humbled to the core is probably an understatement,” she said. “It’s very difficult to quantify how much this means to me, because so much of Alan has really helped shape and positively influence who I am as a leader today.”

Fabian grew up in Michigan, and worked first as a teacher in Virginia, then in Seward. She spent six years as the assistant principal at Mountain View Elementary in Kenai before taking the helm in Nikiski two years ago.

She said it’s not the easiest time to be a student. The educational disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic has left a generation of students behind on learning, and Fabian and her staff are playing catch-up.

She said the school is also struggling, like many across the state, during a time of stagnant education funding. Fabian has advocated on behalf of the school district, speaking with legislators and testifying in the state Senate.

“The biggest thing that I worry about is staffing. We all show up here for the kids, 100%, so investing in education not only ensures stability for staffing, it ensures stability for our students,” she said.

She says the solution is an inflation-proofed BSA, the state’s per-student funding, and reliable benefits for teachers.

At the suggestion of Haskins, Fabian joined the Alaska Association of Elementary School Principals, and said she has found support from her peers around the state, amid a time of high turnover for Alaska principals.

That’s not all she gleaned from Haskins. Fabian said her goal is to maximize her time with students, a lesson she absorbed from her mentor. She’s rarely in her office, preferring to be out in the classroom or hallways. Last year, she participated in the student talent show, and she has a star costume she wears during what’s called “shining stars time,” named for the school’s mascot.

Fabian said Haskins was all about the kids. She said one of her favorite memories of Haskins is from last winter, right before the holiday break.

“And without either of us knowing, we both dressed up as an Elf on the Shelf,” Fabian said. “Going around the school in a onesie-type pajama outfit, and playing basketball, doing things just like an Elf on the Shelf would. And come to find out all the way in Seward, Alan Haskins was doing the same thing.”

Even when they weren’t working together, Fabian said Haskins would often call and say the same thing: “Tell me something great that’s happening in your building right now.”

Whether it’s celebrating every student's birthday with an off-key choir performance of Happy Birthday, or dressing up to have remote control race cars jumped over her head by students, Fabian is working to make sure she has a good answer to that question each day.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.
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