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Atwater a finalist for ASD superintendent job

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There is a familiar name on the Anchorage School District’s list of finalists for the superintendent opening announced on Thursday.

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Dr. Steve Atwater, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District superintendent, is one of two finalists vying for the ASD superintendent position. Current Anchorage Superintendent Carol Comeau will retire at the end of June.

“I felt very honored by the Anchorage School District they would consider me in that light,” Atwater said.

Atwater joins Dr. Jim Browder, former superintendent of Lee County School District, located in Fort Myers, Fla. atop ASD’s list of 150 candidates who applied for the opening.

“The board had very stated criteria that every candidate was rated on and through the process we came down to the finalists,” said Gretchen Guess, ASD School Board president.

Atwater said there were four or five stages to the process. The finalists were chosen after the 150 candidates were narrowed down by a search firm based in Illinois, and then the board chose the top five candidates and interviewed them via video chat. That is where Atwater and Browder separated themselves from the pack, Guess said.

There is one quality that set the finalists apart, Guess said, and that was their leadership.

“We felt they both had the experience and the ability to lead a district of this size at this time,” Guess said.

The next step in the process for the finalists is to visit Anchorage next month to participate in a 2 1/2-day visit. Each finalist will meet with the board, interact with students at different schools, participate in a community forum with parents, students and staff and participate in other scheduled events.

“It’s more just to gain a deeper understanding with the school district,” Atwater said. “It’s 2 1/2 days, so it’s pretty involved.”

Atwater said he was drawn to the Anchorage job because of the role it plays on a larger scale.

“What happens in Anchorage is very influential at the state level,” Atwater said. “I felt it was important for an Alaskan to be part of that — and I thought I fit that bill well.”

Although Atwater is a finalist for the job, he said that if the ASD goes with Browder, he would relish staying put in Kenai.

“If I don’t get this job, then I’m fine, I’m happy, I have a very good situation here,” he said.

The job in Anchorage is the only one in the state Atwater would consider, so he said this was his shot to apply.

“It’s really the only superintendency in Alaska that’s interesting to me — it’s the only place that would attract me.”

If Atwater was chosen as the next ASD superintendent, he would be taking a position Comeau has held for 12 years. Atwater said he has heard people say he would not have an easy task ahead of him. Having known Comeau for 10 years, and worked alongside her on state-wide issues, Atwater feels comfortable if he is to be her successor.

“She’s a legend in many ways,” Atwater said. “I admire her service at the school district in Anchorage and the state.

“I just look forward to building on those partnerships and help the students of anchorage find success.”

KPBSD Board of Education President Joe Arness said Atwater informed him last week that he was being considered for the job.

“I would be sorry to see him go,” Arness said. “I’ve grown to have a lot of respect for him over the last three years.”

Arness admitted he was upset initially by the possibility of Atwater leaving, but he chose to look at the situation differently.

“I can’t have that kind of an attitude,” he said. “It’s definitely a feather in his cap ... but it’s a feather in the cap of the entire district and all of the employees.”

If Atwater is appointed to the position, the KPBSD will have options, Arness said. The board could hire a search firm, advertise the position on appropriate websites or they could simply appoint someone, Arness said. The final decision from ASD will come mid-to-late January, according to ASD. Arness said the board will be prepared for either outcome.

“We’re happy with (Dr. Atwater), we’re happy with what he’s done,” Arness said. “If it doesn’t happen, then we’ll just sail along on our ship.

“If he does leave then we’ll try to have as much of a seamless transition as we can.”

Anchorage’s next superintendent will officially take the reins July 1, 2012.

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