The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s new superintendent is a familiar face. The board of education chose Clayton Holland to lead the district next year.
Holland is the district’s assistant superintendent of Instruction, and was the only one of the three finalists with deep roots in the district.
“It’s the time for experienced leadership and somebody who understands the communities that we live in," he said at a Monday virtual meet-and-greet. "I’ve been to all 42 schools. I’ve been to every community. I understand them.”
The board’s decision to offer Holland the position was unanimous and concluded a nearly two-year process to find a new superintendent. The board also considered Jason R. Johnson, superintendent of the Dillingham City School District, and Janelle Vanasse, superintendent of Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka.
Superintendent John O’Brien is retiring this spring. He took the job in 2019 on an interim basis, when none of the candidates who applied were chosen for the job. The district started the search anew last May.
Holland, who lives in Sterling, holds a bachelor's degree from Missouri State University and a masters in education from University of Alaska Anchorage. He’s taught in Missouri and western Alaska, in the Lower Yukon School District.
His first job in KPBSD was at Kenai Central High School, where he was a special education teacher and coach. In 2008, he became director of Student Support Services, which oversees hundreds of staff at departments ranging from special education to nursing.
River City Academy Principal Dawn Edwards-Smith worked with Holland for the better part of the decade.
“The two things that stick out to me about his leadership, and then also working with him, are probably the things I consider the two most important things in education, especially in leadership positions," she said. "And that’s that Mr. Holland works really hard to empower people to lead also. So he believes in a style of shared leadership.”
Even more importantly, Edwards-Smith said, he’s always fully focused on kids.
“He has never, in the whole time I’ve worked with him, lost sight of making sure that we’re doing what we can and that it’s in the best interest of students," she said.
When O’Brien stepped into the superintendent position, Holland became the assistant superintendent of Instruction. In that role, Holland led a committee to determine how this school year would look amid the pandemic.
Holland’s own kids were students in the district. His wife, Cindy Holland, is a special education teacher at Soldotna Elementary.
His leadership has already been characterized by a willingness to listen and collaborate.
Holland led a revamp of the district’s behavior threat assessment process when he was director of Student Support Services. That’s the process of deciding when students might pose risks to themselves or others.
“And so he reached out to some experts and then talked to people within our district, and really put together a really comprehensive approach for doing that process and really emphasizing a team approach throughout that whole process," said school psychologist Angie Nelson. "And just really sought feedback throughout the whole thing, as well.”
He’s taking up the torch in a difficult time. Schools are still figuring out how to move forward with no end to the pandemic in sight. Many parents have protested the district’s insistence on bringing kids back to school gradually, rather than all at once.
But there’s also opportunity in the technology the district has developed during the pandemic, Holland said, to make learning more equitable across peninsula communities. He said the district’s been talking about how to capitalize on video conferencing technology, for example, so students from small schools, like Cooper Landing and Hope, could call into AP classes in Soldotna.
“And I want to point out, this is not just about small schools and big schools," he said. "With everything that we’re going through with the budget, we're looking at how to be more efficient.”
The qualities that have made Holland a well-loved educator and administrator are not confined to the classroom or conference room. Holland is also an instructor and board member with Sterling Judo Club.
“More patience than I’ve ever had," said Judo Club Sensei Robert Brink. "Patience, which comes from understanding and from compassion for the age groups that he's worked with. Even seniors, even special-needs students. We’ve had a few of those over the years. And the students respect him. They understand him and respect him for that.”
Edwards-Smith said she thinks that role speaks volumes about Holland.
“I think that really shows that it’s part of Mr. Holland’s character," she said. "That it’s part of his kind of core beliefs and philosophy. ’Cause we see it across the board in all of the things that he does.”
The school board will finalize a contract with Holland at its Feb. 1 meeting. His tenure as superintendent begins July 1.