After more than three decades working in education, Timothy Whip is settling down for some “me time.” The regional administrator is headed for retirement and will not return as principal of the Razdolna and Kachemak-Selo schools next school year.
Located in two of three Russian Old Believer villages at the head of Kachemak Bay, the schools have been overseen by Whip for the last few years. Whip said he started at Razdolna about seven years ago, and has been principal of Kachemak-Selo for the last three years.
Before coming to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, Whip worked in the North Slope Borough and in Anchorage.
He said the Russian Old Believer communities were open and welcoming to him.
“It’s always pretty interesting, especially since you have a little bit different of a culture,” he said.
Whip said Russian Old Believer culture is something that makes working in the schools a unique experience. Older students can be gone for 2-3 weeks at a time for weddings, and commercial fishing season and other subsistence activities also eats up a lot of the students’ time.
“That always creates some extra work for the teachers, getting things together, but we’ve been able to put together ways to (have the kids) do their course work,” Whip said.
This includes distance learning and integrating technology. The school district’s program for migrant students also provides resources to students who travel a lot due to their parent’s work.
“I’m a firm believer that students can learn just as much outside of school as within school,” Whip said.
One of the biggest challenges facing all three schools in the villages is the buildings they are housed in. The Kenai Peninsula Borough has been discussing for some time asking voters to go out to bond to help pay to build a new school for Kachemak-Selo, with the help of a state match.
“We’re in rented space from the community, and so these buildings were not built for schools,” Whip said. “So you don’t have a lot of spaces for the kids who might need a little quieter space to work in.”
“We basically just have walls and rectangles,” he added of Razdolna.
Greg Melvin has been hired to replace Whip at Razdolna. Melvin, who has been working for the school district for a year, spent that last year as the special education teacher at Razdolna.
“He’s got the experience here at the school, so he knows the community, knows the parents and the kids,” Whip said. “So I think that was a good fit.”
Melvin described the decision, which was made after a public interview in front of community members, as a surprise. He said he’s “quite elated” at the prospect of becoming Razdolna’s principal.
“I want to build a relationship between the school and community — improve that relationship,” Melvin said.
Originally from Oklahoma, Melvin first worked in the Bering Strait School District in Brevig Mission before moving to the Kenai Peninsula. He said that while he valued the small-town atmosphere, he missed being on the road system.
Melvin explained that in his previous station, he saw how much community life revolved around the physical school.
“School is a really big, important piece of the village itself, and I enjoy that,” he said.
Melvin said he appreciated the community input he got during his public interview. He plans to have an open-door policy when it comes to maintaining communication with parents and community members. He said that includes getting more feedback from Razdolna’s classified staff members, many of whom are from the village, during staff meetings.
Another goal for Melvin is to include more cultural activities within the school, and to make sure the curriculum is meaningful in terms of setting the students up with useful life skills.
“I’m looking forward to next year,” Melvin said. “I have high hopes.”
Voznesenka Principal Mike Wojciak will also take K-Selo under his wing. This means he’ll no longer fill the role of principal and teacher, like he currently does at Voznesenka. Some of his old duties will have to be dispersed to other staff as he becomes principal of a second school, Wojciak said.
Wojciak sees the Kachemak-Selo school building as something that will be a major focus of his going forward.
“There are just some overwhelming building needs that haven’t been addressed,” he said.
Wojciak said that, having gotten to the communities a year before him, Whip was able to give him support when he started at Voznesenka. He described Whip as a calming person, and as a good colleague and friend.
“He will be missed,” Wojciak said.
Although he’s retiring, Whip doesn’t plan to bow out of the education sphere entirely.
“I will definitely be involved in education in some level,” he said.
Whip said he hopes to advocate and be involved at the state and federal level when it comes to funding for schools.
“We have the unfunded mandates, and you need to follow these important steps, but there’s no finances that come along with it,” he said. “And that makes it really critical at the school level to say, ‘Hey, how do we make this work?’”
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.