Chapman School principal resigns after 8 years

Conrad Woodhead, principal of Champman School in Anchor Point for the last eight years, is leaving the school district to take a new job.

His last day is tomorrow, June 14. In addition to leading the school that serves pre-kindergarten through eight grade on the lower Kenai Peninsula, Woodhead has also served as the coordinator for Native education programming for the entire Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. The position did not exist before he cultivated it.

Woodhead will take a position now with the Lower Yukon School District as the CTE (Career Technical Education) and Residential Director. The district has made a partnership with the Anchorage School District and has bought a building in Anchorage where it will send Lower Yukon students for career technical training for a school quarter at a time. Woodhead will be in charge of overseeing those programs as well as the actual building where the students will be staying.

“It’s new, it’s innovative,” he said. “It’s never really been done on this scale before.”

“The goal is to increase graduation rates,” Woodhead continued.

Other school districts have seen success in raising those rates by getting their students on a secondary education track through career technical training and classes, he said. Woodhead talked about the fact that, for the past few years, the Native student graduation rate in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has been on par with or higher than the non-Native graduation rate.

“Our Native grad rates are the highest in the state,” he said.

That’s something he’ll be working toward in his new position.

“This district (Lower Yukon) has a 60 percent grad rate, and I’m excited about developing a program that’s going to improve that.”

The decision to leave Chapman was far from an easy one, though. Woodhead said it was the “toughest thing I have ever done, both professionally and personally.”

Potential deep cuts to education from the district, passed down from the state, were a large factor in the decision to leave, Woodhead said. In particular, seeing Chapman School end up on a list of schools potentially being looked at for closure was hard to grapple with, he said.

“For us as a family, it’s been a tough year,” he said.

Not only was Woodhead principal of Chapman, but his children also went to school there and his wife taught the first grade there as well. All their eggs were essentially in one, unstable basket, he said.

“I’ve got the best staff in the world, so to walk away from that was really hard,” Woodhead said.

Woodhead is especially appreciative of all the opportunities that were afforded him through working at Chapman, as well as by the district when it worked with him to create the Native education program coordinator position. Through that job of deciding how federal dollars for Native students would be spent, Woodhead said he was able to create several valuable community partnerships between the district, Native tribes and the private sector.

“That work has been really satisfying as well,” he said.

But what is Woodhead most proud of?

“It’s just the relationships that we’ve been able to create with our families in our community,” he said of Anchor Point. “I think what I’m going to miss the most is our staff because, bar none, they’re the best I’ve ever worked with. … They were my dream team.”

Woodhead said he’s also proud of how the Anchor Point community stepped up to defend their school and its importance in the wake of budget cut talks.

The district has held interviews for an interim principal to replace Woodhead. The superintendent will meet with each school that has hired an interim principal in late 2019, said Pegge Erkeneff, school district spokesperson.

“After those public meetings, a determination will be made if it is the best interest of the school to open a national search for a permanent administrator, or if a permanent contract will be offered to the interim principal,” she wrote in an email.

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