Techie living abroad is board's choice for superintendent
The Haines Borough school board last week voted to offer its superintendent position to Virginia "Ginger" Jewell, a Georgia-based technology specialist who spent the past six years building schools in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The board voted early this week to offer Jewell a $103,000 contract for three years. school board president Anne Marie Palmieri said Jewell's vision and experience put her above three other finalists for the position.
Palmieri cited Jewell's experience in the Middle East. "She's been involved in hiring staff, coordinating food, doing budgets, making sure they're operational, everything to do with managing a school."
Jewell is articulate and knowledgeable, and can provide statistics to back up her views on education, such as the importance of a music program, Palmieri said.
"Her knowledge base is vast. Her experience is vast. We think she'll be able to come to Haines and give us options and opportunities and lead us to the next level," Palmieri said.
Jewell currently works for the American University School of Kuwait, and as deputy superintendent there she's in charge of purchasing equipment and arranging logistics for overseas shipments.
Her last public school job was working as director of technology integration support services for Clarke County School District in Athens, Ga ., a position she held from 1999 to 2008. Her resume includes director of academic technology for Columbus State University in Georgia, 1993-1999, and technology coordinator for The Lovett School, a private school in Atlanta, Ga ., 1991-1993.
She also worked as technology consultant and computer coordinator at public schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts from 1980-1990.
school board member Sara Chapell said she wasn't concerned that Jewell hasn't previously served as superintendent of a public school. "Her experience lines up with what we need. She's done finance and construction and understands the cutting edge of education. She's definitely a different candidate from our first-round (finalists) who'd worked their way up in administration at Alaska schools. This is really a different tack, but I'm hopeful it will work out."
Superintendent finalists took questions from teachers, students and community members previous to interviews with school board members. "(Jewell) went deeper each time she talked during the interviews and really warmed up. She was thinking about people she'd met and how she'd fit in here," Chapell said.
She noted that Jewell was familiar with the "flipped" classroom model where students listen to lectures at home, then delve deeper into topics during class time with teachers. "She's right on track with the way I think technology should fit into our district."
Asked in an interview what about her experience prepared her for the job here, Jewell said, "What I do now is run all the operations of the school. Can you keep the school going, so, bus services, food services, security, housing, housekeeping, business office, recruitment, procurement, human resources, all that back end stuff."
She said that in other districts where she worked, classes were made available to individuals who would volunteer there and school libraries were opened to the public.
"You need to have a very transparent presence with the community so they know what's going on with the school. Even if you don't have a child in the school, you should know what's going on in the school, because it's important," Jewell said. It's important for schools to work with economic development groups, she said, "so the school can support what the community's trying to do."
School administrators also should build personal relationships with legislators, she said. "You can't always be coming to ask for something."
She listed among her achievements nearly doubling the pass rate for students in Algebra I class in Clarke County – a district with a high poverty rate – by increasing class time, introducing technology and getting teachers professional development.
Two examples of effective technology she cited were recording language textbooks on iPads and a recording system that allowed students doing homework to quickly hear passages from the same day's lecture. She described Haines as a "fairly technology rich" district.
"You need to make good decisions about the (technology) you bring in... You go out and find technology to do what you want it to do, to solve a very specific problem," she said.
Jewell said she applied for the Haines job because the area reminds her of small-town New England, where she grew up. She is married to a retired firefighter. She said he's moving to Haines as soon as they sell their house in Georgia.
Other superintendent finalists were Iner Joelson of Laurens, Iowa, Holly Cervin of Gustavus and Ralph Crosslin, a Bellaire, Mich. resident who worked in Nenana and Kake.
Board member Chapell said Joelson wasn't asked and didn't offer an explanation for why his resume didn't indicate he had left his superintendent position at Laurens. The matter was a concern during a budget workshop last week. "It didn't really matter. We had a clear top choice. There was no second place."