Principal Gee takes the helm at Homer High
• First week of school full of surprises for new principal
by Naomi Klouda
The first week in a new school can give anyone the jitters and a stomach full of butterflies.
Now, imagine being the new principal at Homer High School and getting a call from the governor.
Around 2 p.m. Friday afternoon, Principal Allan Gee got a quick phone call that Gov. Sean Parnell was on his way to visit the high school.
“We were told he was weathered out of Kodiak and that he would like to visit the high school,” Gee explained. “I said, Certainly. Come on over.”
Gee escorted Gov. Parnell and his wife, Sandy, to a few classes, stopping in to check on Alaska history and Language Arts classes.
“In the Alaska Studies class, he greeted each student individually and asked them about their careers and post-secondary education goals,” Gee said. “The governor talked to them about the importance of various careers available in Alaska.”
Gee said students and staff were amazed to see them walk in; and it was the first visit by a governor to Homer High, as far as anyone could remember.
Principal Gee considers his first week of school a rather good one. He is, after all, back in the territory to which he longed to return. He arrived in Homer on Aug. 3 after a fast-track hiring process, driving all the way up from Georgia. No stranger to Alaska schools, he was principal at the North Slope village of Wainwright from 1997-99 and Kodiak Middle School from 1999-2003. And when he and wife Gwenn left, they vowed they would return.
But first, the principal had a promise to keep.
Gee’s grandparents, Otis and Lottie Spain of Braselton, Georgia, had raised him.
“I promised them I would return and take care of them in their last years,” Gee said.
During his six years away, Gee served first as assistant principal of Richard’s Middle School in Lawrenceville, Ga., and then took over as principal at Centerville Elementary in Snellville, Ga.
Gee said the jobs offered a great opportunity for his children, Jared, sixth grade, and Megan, eighth grade to get to know their great-grandparents. “It was a wonderful, full-circle experience,” he said.
In April, Gee and his wife Gwenn, a special education teacher, agreed to try for that second promise they had made – to one day return to Alaska. Gee applied for an assistant superintendent position with the Kenai Peninsula School District. He wasn’t selected for that position, but apparently made a good impression on the district.
In early June, then Homer High’s principal Rayna Duenas announced her resignation, leaving the borough in a rush to get Homer a principal at least a month before the start of school. At the time, Kenai Peninsula Borough District Superintendent Donna Peterson said she hoped the strong contenders for other district jobs would come forth if they were still interested.
As it happened, Gee fit that bill.
“I saw the posting and applied. I was interviewed by phone a few days later, and then a couple of days after that was offered the job,” Gee recalled. “I had always intended to return and I was waiting for the right job. And we felt very strongly, this is it.”
Still, the happy prospect of getting back didn’t leave much time to pack. Gee was on the road by July 18, hauling 18,000 pounds of the family’s furniture up the AlCan in a U-Haul. The rest of the family kept to a planned family trip with extended relatives on a Caribbean Cruise.
Gee arrived by July 30 and started work on Aug. 3. In the meantime, Gwenn Gee was hired at Homer Middle School.
Richard’s Middle School with its 2,400 students and Centerville Elementary with 850 were both quite a bit larger schools than Homer High’s nearly 400 student body.
“This is very manageable and more personable in terms of getting to know students, staff and parents,” he said. “It was a quick transition, but it has been wonderful to be back.”
In Kodiak, Gee said he would purposely go to the Safeway store and, while shopping, welcome grocery-aisle discussions.
“Getting a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk would take 35-40 minutes,” he figured. “I really appreciated being able to talk with people about whatever might be on their minds.”
As students, staff and parents get to know Gee, they might enjoy a visit to his office as well. Shelves are filled with books like “George Washington on Leadership.”
Gee explained that today’s principal is a different fellow from the school figureheads of the past.
“I never saw a principal in the classroom,” he said. “Now we do daily walk-throughs to learn about students, offer ideas and look at ways we can be supportive of teachers.”
Going to the principal’s office usually happened only if you got into trouble.
These days, principals are concerned beyond the disciplinarian role.
“The role has changed, especially with the federal guidelines of the No Child Left Behind Act,” he explained. “There is a lot more emphasis on the instructional leadership that supports our core business of teaching and learning.”
Gee holds a doctorate in educational leadership.
He also focuses on three Rs as supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – the “rigors” of academics, the “relevance” of studies to student lives and “relationships” – peer-to-peer, as well as principal to staff.
One of Gee’s leadership styles is finding new ways to approach old questions. For example, after reading “Strengths Finder,” a book by Tom Rath, he applied his new theory of building on strengths rather than on a person’s weaknesses. He intends to introduce the concepts to his Homer staff.
“The intent is to focus on your strengths and those of the staff,” he said. “Too often we identify weaknesses and focus on improving that area rather than building on a person’s strength.”
When the No Child Left Behind Act brought in stacks of paperwork for teachers, Gee found a unique way to help a talented high school choir director with paperwork issues.
“I found him someone to help with the paperwork, so he could focus on what he does best – conducting the choir,” Gee said. “In this way, he is able to build on his strengths.”
Though Friday’s visit from the governor was a great top to Gee’s first week back in an Alaska school, it wasn’t the first time he was able to meet an influential leader. In Plains, Ga., Gee visited a Southern Baptist Church and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was conducting Sunday School.
“He’s so influential and yet so humble,” Gee said. “He made a deep impression on me and how I want to approach my students, staff and parents.”