A conversation with Chapman principal Joshua Hinds

Chapman School Principal Joshua Hinds may be the new kid on the block in Anchor Point, but he’s a seasoned education administrator who’s been bringing his expertise to small Alaska schools for years.

The Homer News sat down with Hinds on Oct. 10 for a conversation about education, goals for Chapman and how the school year is going so far.

Hinds is the interim principal to replace Conrad Woodhead, who resigned over the summer after eight years in the position. Before this, Hinds served as the principal in Port Graham and Seldovia for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years. Earlier, he worked in Utqiagvik for seven years, and he’s lived in Alaska since 2008.

No stranger to being a school administrator in small communities, Hinds said Anchor Point is actually on the larger side of what he’s used to. In smaller villages or communities off the main road system, the school becomes the hub for the town, much as it can be in Anchor Point.

Working in smaller schools than Chapman, Hinds said he was often called on to handle issues or solve problems outside the job description of your average principal. This gave Hinds experience when it comes to interfacing with parents and the general community, not just the school and its staff.

“In this position, it’s not quite as intense,” he said. ” … It’s still a lot of work, there’s no doubt about it — it’s just a different kind of work.”

Hinds spoke of how supportive the Anchor Point community members are of their school.

“They have high expectations of their school, and so that’s really awesome,” he said. “I’m having a lot of meetings with parents and people want to stop in and talk a lot.”

He said the fact that people want to engage with their local school isn’t always a given in rural Alaska, but he’s noticed that’s the case in Anchor Point.

Area residents have good reason to keep a close eye on Chapman and what happens within its walls. The Anchor Point community spent the better part of last school year rallying to support Chapman when it landed on a list of schools being looked at by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District for potential consolidation or closure. In the wake of severe funding uncertainty stemming from state budget cuts and Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s line-item operating budget vetoes, the school district was preparing for the worst case scenario.

In the end, the district consolidated freshmen at Soldotna Prep into the Soldotna High School campus and no other schools on the list for potential closure were affected, but Anchor Point families came out in droves to defend their schools in public meetings with local and state representatives.

“I think the community was probably kind of emotionally exhausted from the experience,” Hinds said of stepping in as principal after a year of uncertainty. “And I think many communities experience that kind of same reaction when they have to rally the troops.”

Hinds said he came into the job understanding the positions of both the families and the school district.

“Talking to Superintendent (John) O’Brien, no one wants to close schools,” he said. “No one wants to do that.”

Hinds said that while nothing is certain going forward, his goal is to help the community and the school get back to focusing on the kids and their education.

“As much as those things are still hanging over our heads sometimes, we’re trying to maintain focus, you know, on the mission at hand,” he said. “I think people are really ready to do that. I think the staff is rallying around that.”

The school year is off to a good start at Chapman, Hinds said. One of the ways in which Hinds said staff is focusing on better education for students is through the district’s personalized learning initiative. An old concept, the district’s iteration began rolling out in waves of schools across the peninsula in the last few years.

Personalized learning seeks to combine technological advances with a more personalized, one-on-one learning experience for students. It emphasizes ownership over one’s education as well as self awareness. The initiative also includes in-house professional development.

“So teachers are going to observe other teachers’ classrooms and converse about those things,” Hinds said.

Student reflection and ownership is another big part of personalized learning that the staff at Chapman is focusing on, Hinds said.

“And so we’re really making sure kids are understanding the assignments and the concepts that we’re covering, and then trying to make sure that we provide opportunities for them to demonstrate their understanding of that in personalized ways,” he said. “And it could look different in all kinds of content areas.”

The balance between the use of technology and traditional tools is something Hinds takes seriously.

“We’re trying to identify effective online … adaptive technologies that help students progress at their own rate,” he said.

There is no shortage of technological tools out there waiting to be used, Hinds said, but if they aren’t implemented in the classroom properly, they won’t enhance an education.

“It’s much harder to get the adaptive technologies in your school that are really being used well; it’s much harder than it sounds,” he said.

Hinds said the school works with the site council and parents to make sure the right balance is struck when it comes to screens in classrooms.

When it came to getting connected with the school and parents as a new principal, Hinds said he saw an opportunity to be more than a principal, and took it.

“We had a staff member who was unavailable to … coach soccer, so I coached soccer this year,” he said. “And that really helped.”

Hinds’ wife has also helped form a local Girl Scouts troop and bring it into the school. The school is also working with a local community member to put together a golf program, which would be new for the students.

In this way, Hinds is continuing the tradition of Chapman being closely intertwined with the Anchor Point community.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.