Homer Flex School principal Chris Brown named Region III Principal of the Year

The Alaska Council of School Administrators named Homer Flex High School principal Chris Brown as Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals Region III Principal of the Year.

There are six high schools on the Kenai Peninsula as well as high schools in Palmer, Wasilla, Houston and Kodiak in the region.

In a press release describing the award, the council explained that the group sponsors regional and statewide Principal of the Year to honor educational administrative leaders who contribute to the pivotal and supportive roles for student success. The principals can be nominated for the award by parents, students, staff members, district office staff or principal peers. Once they receive the regional award, the principals are eligible to run for the statewide Alaska principal of the year.

Prior to his position as principal, Brown served as a teacher at the school and has been employed there for 14 years.

“Principal Brown stands out for many reasons, but the primary reason in his unwavering commitment to fostering a caring environment for all students. He has an exceptional ability to make kids feel welcome, regardless of their background or circumstances,”Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Clayton Holland was quoted as saying in the press release.

Eric Pederson, director of elementary education for the KPBSD, provided some feedback Brown’s contribution to the school and community.

“Chris is a great guy. His heart is in the right place. He genuinely cares about kids, about school relationships, their academics and their future. Whenever I’ve visited the school, you can just see the relationships, the bonds and trust that goes both ways between him and the students and the staff as well! There are some challenges that come from working in an alternative school and he has done a great job with that. A lot of times the students who are attending the Flex School are coming from another school and he really helps them see another chance,” Pederson said.

Secretary for the school, Beth Schneider, said, “Chris’s vision for Flex has always been driven by student needs, keeping both the current needs of students, as well as what will help them become their best future adult-selves, at the forefront of everything we do. He’s always involved with what’s happening at the school, and he works to form relationships with every student. Flex really is a great place to work, and Chris’s leadership is part of the reason I say that.”

Former school counselor, Ingrid Harrald, said, “Chris is a leader in implementing trauma informed practices in the schools. A decade ago he guided a staffwide effort to create a school climate based on restorative practices and respect for individuals which he continues to this day. He prioritizes relationships, not only between teachers and students but also cultivates a culture of acceptance and support among the students. He works hard to advocate for and provide access to services for students, whether that be health care, academic support, mental health, or basic needs.”

Audrey Dabney, 2023 Homer Flex School graduate, shared these comments on her experience at Flex and Brown’s contribution, “Attending Flex allowed me to regain credits and graduate a year early while also providing an enjoyable learning environment. Chris supported my education by helping keep me on track for graduation and talking me through the process of achieving my future career goals all while making sure I wasn’t feeling overwhelmed.” Dabney is now an intern at the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve.

In 1989, a grant through the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act funded the launch of Flex. The students were required to be age 16 and older. The program’s mornings were for academics and afternoons were dedicated to student employment, apprenticeships, internships or volunteer work. Much of the teaching was either computer-generated or correspondence courses. The school was originally organized with the administration and under the auspices of Homer High School as an alternative program, but according to former and long-term principal Karen Wessel was always housed off campus.

There are currently three teachers at the school: Josh Gates, Annie Raatz and Casey Yordy. There are 36 students enrolled there this year. The school is located in Homer at 4122 Ben Walters Lane. Students enrolled at the Homer Flex School are eligible to participate in extracurricular activities at Homer High School and regularly engage in the school music program in order to perform in events such as the annual musical, according Homer High School counselor Paul Story.

Brown’s welcome statement on the school website notes that “Homer Flex offers students an alternative to the traditional high school experience. From the individualized academic environment to our small classrooms in a renovated house, almost everything about our program serves as a stark contrast to student expectations and past experiences. More importantly, it provides students a fresh start in a supportive, restorative environment. Sometimes, these changes are all that is needed for students to find success in a part of their lives in which they have historically found only frustration.”

Each regional Principal of the Year will be awarded and recognized at the 58th annual Alaska Principals’ Conference that takes place in Anchorage at the end of September.