School district searching for new superintendent

May 12, 2020

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is searching for a replacement for Superintendent John O'Brien, who is retiring in June.
Credit Jenny Neyman/KDLL

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education voted to seat a superintendent search oversight committee at its meeting May 6. Current Superintendent John O’Brien announced his plans to retire in June.

O’Brien started his career in 1993 as a special education teacher in Maine. He also became an athletic director, assistant principal and principal while in Maine. He and his family moved to Nikiski in 2005 for a job as principal of Nikiski Middle-High School. In 2011, he became director of Secondary Education for KPBSD, and in 2015 became the assistant superintendent of Instruction.

He was offered the job of superintendent for the 2019-2020 school year when none of the candidates that had applied were chosen for the position. He had indicated he was not planning on serving in that role for multiple years. O’Brien underwent surgery and treatment for kidney cancer just before spring break in March. 

At the May 6 school board meeting, O’Brien reported that a committee has been formed to figure out what school might look like next fall. There are a lot of contingencies to figure out, given the coronavirus pandemic.

“This year, in the shadow of this current global pandemic, we have begun planning, both at the state and at the local level, working with the commissioner of Education and other superintends throughout the state, on what school might look like in the fall to start next school year,” O’Brien said. “We understand that it’s important in this difficult time to involve all stakeholders in this process.”

The committee will be lead by the new assistant superintendent of Instruction, Clayton Holland, who was recently promoted from director of Student Support Services. The committee will include teachers, support staff, principals representing all sizes and configurations of schools in the district, board members and District Office staff.  

The district is also finalizing plans for high school graduation ceremonies, most including a combination of virtual and in-person components. 

"We feel particularly sad for our seniors this year who have had their senior year significantly disrupted, starting in the fall with forest fires and the impact that that had on schooling and on athletics. And, obviously, more importantly for seniors and families, the graduations for this May," O’Brien said. 

The district has been working with principals to put plans in place for all 19 high schools. O’Brien said the trick has been finding a balance between what students and families want and staying with the guidelines from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Graduations start May 18. Soldotna High School will hold a drive-through graduation at 6 p.m. that day, with students driving by an outdoor stage in the school parking lot, getting out of their vehicle, receiving their diploma and driving away. Only household members are allowed in the vehicle with the graduate.

District personnel handing out the diplomas will be masked and gloved and everyone will be socially distanced. The parking lot isn’t big enough to accommodate spectators but the ceremony will be broadcast live on KDLL, starting at 5:40 p.m. with speeches from the salutatorian, valedictorians and guest speaker.

KDLL will also broadcast the graduation ceremony for the Connections Homeschool program. That will be at 4 p.m. May 21.