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Story Last modified at 5:20 p.m. on Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Comeau picks CHS principal
Sam Spinella, if approved, to replace Rick Volk

Alaska Star


Benny Benson Secondary School principal Sam Spinella speaks to teachers during a meet and greet at Chugiak High on May 5. Spinella has been chosen to replace Chugiak principal Rick Volk, who is retiring this year.
Star photo by Melissa DeVaughn

Sam Spinella, principal at Benny Benson Secondary School, is school superintendent Carol Comeau's choice to replace retiring Chugiak High principal Rick Volk.

On Tuesday afternoon, Comeau made her recommendations, following four days of deliberation that winnowed a four-candidate field to two, then one. The board will vote on this recommendation on May 23.

"Sam is absolutely committed to all students being successful, and I believe will be an excellent leader for Chugiak for many years to come." said Comeau in a press release on the announcement. "He works very well with all of the comprehensive high schools, and is committed to increasing student success for ninth-graders at Chugiak."

On May 5, students, school employees and parents came to Chugiak High to meet the candidates. The final candidates included Jim Bell and Brian Hosken, both current staffers at the school; David Legg, who works in the district's special education department; and Spinella.

Director of high schools Mike Henry introduced the candidates, whom he said were narrowed from a larger field of 16 applicant finalists. A school advisory committee set up the gathering to give those most interested in who would be their new leader a chance to ask questions.

Nearly 20 of those in the audience were students, such as sophomores Nathan Dennis and Gage Bradford.

"I'm just curious to see what they have to say," Dennis said. "And I want to see what their support is of music, because that is life for a lot of students."

Spinella, when it was his turn to speak, said he wanted the job because "I enjoy working with teachers and parents ... and working with this age group."

He spoke of current research that indicates how young brains operate, and said that such research can help educators better serve their students.

"We can recognize how each one can learn in their own special way," he said.

After introductions, the participants were split into groups – parents and community members, district employees, and students – to question the candidates individually. The advisory committee gave each of the participants yellow ballots on which to write their impressions of the candidates and offer an unofficial "vote."

Those votes, Henry said, would go straight to Comeau.

"I can tell you she reads every single one of these," Henry said. "When the advisory committee chooses, it carries some weight."

Comeau, reached Tuesday by phone, said she spent the weekend doing just that.

"The comments were very helpful," she said. "What came through to me loud and clear is that they wanted someone who would learn and respect the traditions of Chugiak (High) but also move forward with the whole school, for more rigor and improvement."

Comeau said there was no clear choice among the advisory committee's collection of comments – "There were lots of folks supportive for each candidate," she said.

Still, the comments helped her gain a more clear understanding of what those vested in the school want for it.

"To get their thoughts is very helpful," she said.

Comeau said she thinks Spinella will make a good fit for Chugiak.

"He's not an overly charismatic person when you first meet him, but he's solid as a rock," she said. "He gets to know the students, every single student, not just the student government or the athletes or the at-risk kids."

According to school district spokeswoman Heidi Embley, Spinella had 20 years of educational experience out of state before joining the Anchorage School District in 2002-03. He was an assistant principal at East High for six years and has been principal at Benny Benson for the past three years.

"He has a diverse set of experiences that should serve him well at Chugiak," Comeau said.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, May 11, 2011.