Between advocating for his students to the local Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Directors and kissing pigs during school assemblies, Eric Pederson doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about himself.
It’s all about his students and their growth while at Paul Banks Elementary School, where he’s the principal. But the spotlight is on Pederson now, as the recipient of a statewide award recognizing an outstanding elementary school leader.
Pederson has been named the Alaska Association of Elementary School Principals 2020 National Distinguished Principal. It’s an honor a principal has to be nominated for, and Pederson will represent Alaska in Washington, D.C., later this year, where he will be recognized for the honor, according to a press release from the association.
Pederson has been at the helm of Paul Banks since 2013. Before that, he was principal at Kuinerrimuit Elitnaurviat School in Quinhagak starting in 2007. He has a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Alaska Anchorage, according to the press release.
He described being named the 2020 National Distinguished Principal by the associated as a “pretty huge honor.”
After being nominated by other principals, one has to go through an application process. Pederson said he discussed his leadership and his educational philosophy. There was also an interview.
Pederson said it’s felt great to get congratulatory feedback from the community, and also to be able to represent Homer on a statewide and national level. A big part of his success as a principal comes from the staff at Paul Banks, Pederson said.
“The parents, the kids,” he said. “It’s a huge honor to represent them.”
Pederson said building trust with families and being intentional about it is a major part of how he leads the school.
“I think the biggest success is obviously a shared leadership with your team, but even before that it’s all about relationships, and all of those relationships have to be stepped in trust,” he said.
Pederson said he realizes parents are giving the school “their greatest resource” every day before they go off to work. That’s no small responsibility for the school and staff, he said.
At the end of the day, Pederson said the school is there for the taxpayers, and he wants it to feel like it belongs to the community.
It feels particularly good to be honored as an elementary school principal, Pederson said. Sometimes one can get a bit of what he called “little brother syndrome” when looking at the local high schools, which have much more visible ties to the community with sporting events and spaces to host community events.
“And I truly believe that this is the most important level,” Pederson said of elementary schools. This early time is setting students up for the next 13 years of their education. “Everyone is trying to set the bar high.”