Monte Thacker hired as Dillingham Middle/High School principal

May 26, 2016

Hiring committee, superintendent put premium on prior administrative experience; some say that makes it too difficult for local teachers to pursue admin ambitions without moving elsewhere.

Thacker chats with school board and community members during an open house in early May.
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

The Dillingham City School Board Monday voted unanimously to hire Monte Thacker to replace Bill Schwan as the new Middle/High School Principal. Thacker comes from a 16-year career as a teacher and school administrator in Texas, and he spent this past year heading up a charter school in Anchorage.

KDLG posted a profile of Thacker after he visited the district as the top contender a few weeks ago. Now, KDLG’s Hannah Colton takes a look at the hiring process for the school’s top position.

In a KDLG interview in early May, Monte Thacker said he is eager to get to know the people of Dillingham, and that he doesn’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to education.

"I think first you find out what’s important to the community and to individuals here. Because, face it, I’ve come from a different area and the needs are not the same. It’s important to include the stakeholders and find out what’s most important for them and their children."

Thacker was among the top three candidates ranked by a hiring committee, which consisted of five district employees, including one teacher and two parents. The committee interviewed candidates and considered feedback from teachers about what they want to see in their new boss. 

Then, the committee gave their ranked list to Superintendent Danny Frazier, who made the final recommendation to the school board. 

Frazier says he eventually chose Thacker for a combination of traits, especially his eight years as a principal in both large and small schools and his willingness to learn new things.

"But the number one most important thing," says Frazier, "is, are they going to be a good team player? Are they going to be able to work with students, staff and other administrators so that we’re trying to accomplish a goal? The district already has a goal, so can they jump on board with us?"

In the end, Frazier says, the hiring committee placed a high value on prior administrative experience.

That’s something they found mostly lacking in the three local applicants for the position.

Addressing the school board Monday, elementary teacher Teresa Duncan took issue with that. She believes the district missed an opportunity to hire locally.  

"I think it’s far more important that somebody in our district knows the community and understands the community," said Duncan. "And all three of these applicants own homes, and are vested in this community and contribute to this community and we know they would be members who understand what our children’s needs are."

One of those local applicants was high school teacher Nathan Coutsoubos. He has since accepted a job as an elementary school principal in Washington State.

And while Coutsoubos respects the committee’s decision to go with a more experienced candidate, he says that constraint makes it hard for local teachers to advance their careers.

"The trouble is that we have limited opportunities here in Dillingham to gain that experience. We have only a couple administrative jobs," says Coutsoubos. "And due to our chuckleheads in Juneau, we don’t have the funding to have the positions that are often used as that first step towards getting administrative experience."

The district has had two Deans of Students this year; due to budget cuts there will be only one next year, and the Athletic Director will be a half-time position.

Incoming principal Monte Thacker plans to move to Dillingham in mid-July, before starting at the school August 1. He says his wife, Theressa, hopes to start work at the hospital around the same time.