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LKSD Superintendent Kimberly Hankins is retiring, and the board is looking for the right replacement

The Lower Kuskokwim School District offices in Bethel, Alaska.
Gabby Salgado
The Lower Kuskokwim School District offices in Bethel, Alaska.

Lower Kuskokwim School District (LKSD) Superintendent Kimberly Hankins will retire at the end of the school year. She has spent 21 years serving in various district positions throughout the region, including Eek, Quinhagak, Napakiak, Tuntutuliak, and Atmautluak. Now, the district and the Alaska School Board Association have begun their search for candidates to take over as superintendent in July 2024.

LKSD’s most agreed-upon goal is to find someone to fill the superintendent role that has experience and willingness to be responsive to cultures, especially Alaska Native cultures, and who will be supportive of Native traditions and the Yup’ik and Cup’ik languages. They also want someone who has successfully been a superintendent or assistant superintendent, and has spent three years as a principal or administrator.

School board member Hugh Dyment is vice president of the superintendent search committee.

“Firstly, I want to be clear that I don't speak for the board, right? I can only speak for myself,” said Dyment. “And that’s important because not every board member agrees. But what I want to see is demonstrated success in an experience in rural Alaska, and in particular, Native Alaska. So that's just to start with, right? That's like the minimum requirement, you know, for me.”

Dyment also wants to see someone who has demonstrated success in increasing student academic achievements, improving attendance, and lowering dropout rates. Those are three of the school board’s chosen metrics for measuring their own success.

The board’s fourth metric is to measure the district’s proficiency in Yugtun and Cugtun, which is notably different from the state’s mission to get students on English reading level by the third grade. And while the school board wants someone that uplifts Native values and has lived in a village, a strong majority of the board voted to treat internal and external candidates the same.

“If you prioritize an internal hire you've limited your pool,” Dyment said.

Dyment said that, for example, people in neighboring school districts have similar experiences. Still, school board members involved in the hiring process said that every superintendent in the district for at least the last three decades, save one, has been an internal hire: people who moved through the ranks within LKSD.

School board member Oscar Active of Kongiganak actively prefers the idea of hiring somebody from outside the district.

“Because these guys, when you hire in-district, they try to stay on that one track,” Active said. “And that's not good for the students.”

Active is Alaska Native and wants to reintroduce more vocational training into the curriculum, like crafting boats and subsistence practices. He wants the new superintendent to have multiple experiences to draw from. Someone who would bring a new perspective to the district. Like Dyment, Active wants someone who can think outside the box.

“I'm looking for someone with an open mind that's going to listen to both cultures.”

For Active, that could be anyone.

“It's really hard to define what the middle is, you know. I know some of them want to learn the Yup'ik, I know some Gusuks that learn Yup'ik. And they're really good at it. And they learn the language, they learn the people. They're kind. And it's hard to define, but I know what I'm looking for,” Active said.

Neither Active nor Dyment think that it’s necessary that the person be Alaska Native themselves. In at least the last 30 years, none of LKSD's superintendents have been Alaska Native, and members of the hiring team couldn’t recall any Alaska Native candidates either.

Hankins will stay at the helm of the district until the end of the school year. She said that when it came to leading the district, she considered how to support the district’s mission to ensure culturally appropriate and effective education for all students. She said that it took a variety of skills.

“I think first and foremost, your ability to listen and interact with a variety of stakeholders is very important,” Hankins said. “You need to have excellent communication skills. You have to be organized in the role, and really have a vision for how you're going to best serve the district and utilize your team in that effort.”

She also found her relationship with many villages in the district invaluable. Before acting as superintendent, Hankins was a teacher in Eek, Tuntutuliak, and Quinhagak, and was a principal in Napakiak and Atmautluak. In Bethel she became the director of secondary education and then assistant superintendent before taking over as superintendent four years ago.

“I feel really blessed overall, because I've lived in so many of our communities. I feel really connected to our district. And it's, you know, one thing that I love about my job is I see people all the time from the places I've lived,” Hankins said. “And it's just really, it's, it's been a blessing to maintain those connections.”

The job is challenging. Hankins started in 2020, a month before schools closed for COVID-19. They had ongoing lawsuits, issues with erosion and managed retreat in Napakiak, and a relocation in Newtok.

“I think when we had our fire in Akiuk that was very challenging,” Hankins said. “And definitely, you know, to this day, I’m so proud of the local response to that situation and how everyone from multiple communities was really working together to save our school out there.”

Dyment commended how Hankins remained coolheaded in a crisis, and hopes to find a new superintendent that can do the same.

“I just know that I take this, I take a superintendent search very seriously,” Dyment said. “And I know other board members do. And that we want to hire. We want to hire someone who will be successful. And it's a big job and a tough job. It really is.”

The application period is open until Jan. 8, 2024. Then the board will select finalist candidates and let the community meet them. The school board plans to choose a new superintendent in the first days of February.

Sunni is a reporter and radio lover. Her favorite part of the job is sitting down and having a good conversation.