Sterling Elementary Principal is 2022 Alaska AAESP National Distinguished Principal!

Principal Denise Kelly is the Alaska Association of Elementary School Principals National Distinguished Principal for 2022!

Soldotna, May 2, 2022—Presented with the award at a surprise assembly on May 2, 2022, with her family, school community, AAESP board members, and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District leaders in attendance, Principal Kelly entered the full gym for the surprise announcement and celebration. She was nominated and selected by her fellow principals for this distinguished recognition through a statewide search process conducted by the Alaska Association of Elementary School Principals.

“Sterling Elementary is a special place,” said KPSBD Superintendent Clayton Holland during the surprise award assembly. “When you walk into the building, you can feel the positive school culture and climate that exists in Sterling Elementary. You can tell that Sterling Elementary School is a place that staff and students want to be and that parents want to be a part of. Ms. Kelly has worked alongside her staff and school community to create this feeling. She will do anything and everything for her students and staff. … Ms. Kelly will represent the entire state of Alaska very well as their Nationally Distinguished Principal. We are all very proud of her and Sterling Elementary School.”

Principal Kelly said a favorite aspect to her work each day is to welcome students every morning when they arrive to school. “They are always so excited to see us, have stories to tell about their night, morning or weekend, and I get to be the first person at the school to call them by name and welcome them back to learning.” An important concern at Sterling Elementary is to “become as close to a zero waste school as we can.” She explains, “We recycle paper, cardboard, plastics and aluminum. We separate our food waste in our lunchroom so that less waste goes to the landfill. I believe that it is important to teach our students about preserving our community and ensuring that we leave it better than we have found it. We try to do our small part in preserving the world.”

Principal Kelly said, “This award makes me think of all of the hard work and dedication that all of our staff put into our school, students, and families every day. It makes me think of all of the times that we have been short staffed, particularly over the last three years and how there is always someone, or many someones who step up to fill voids. It is this community of learners and educators that have given me the ability to become who I am as an administrator. I am honored and humbled by this award. We never do what we do in education for recognition, but when one of us is recognized for our work, all of us are recognized! The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has world class educators at all of our schools!”

In 1998 Mrs. Kelly graduated from Northern Arizona University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree with a dual major in elementary education and special education. She earned a Master of Arts Degree in Education Administration and Supervision from the University of Phoenix, and later received a Graduate Certificate in Restorative Practices from the International Institute of Restorative Practices in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She began her administrative career as an interim principal at Kilohana Elementary School in Kaunakakai, Hawaii, in 2009, she worked in Coeur d’Alene School District #271 in Idaho, and Tempe Elementary School District #3. After moving to Alaska in 2011, she started her career in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District as a districtwide Special Education program coordinator, then became the Sterling Elementary in 2014. She is currently in her eighth year as the principal at Sterling Elementary.

“This year alone, Ms. Kelly has stepped in to be the Intensive Needs Special Teacher, worked with all the support staff, and run meetings to meet the needs of all students,” said Superintendent Holland during the assembly. “She fills in everywhere needed. She has been seen early in the morning at school moving snow, or bringing her family in to clean the building when the custodian was out. Mrs. Kelly never complains about all that she has had to do, but rather jumps in and models for all of us to do what it takes to keep the school running and meet the needs of the entire school community. She does all of this while maintaining a focus on academics, meeting the social emotional development needs of her students, and providing support to her staff. In regard to her staff, one of her biggest accomplishments is working to surround herself with great staff!”

Principal Kelly believes in balancing leadership and management to make sure her students are surrounded by effective and caring people. She believes that the crux of leadership is motivating people and that leadership is shared amongst her school, and the larger, community. Assistant Superintendent Kari Dendurent said, “An important area is Denise’s character and community commitment through her dedication to the Social Emotional Learning for her students and staff demonstrated by earning her certification in Restorative Practices. This practice brings individuals to a cooperative and productive state through empowerment.”

Mrs. Kelly was a finalist for the Kindness Experience Award from the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation in 2019 and received a Human Dignity Award from the Victory Over Violence Organization in 2010. She said, “I take pride in everything that I do. And everything that I do, I do for our students. There is not a student that I have had pass through Sterling Elementary that hasn’t stolen my heart. I love this community, and I cherish my position at our school.” Mrs. Kelly has volunteered at the Sterling Senior Center and Community Center.

Principal Kelly said, “I would like to thank so many people. I wish that my mom were alive to see how she has inspired me to think about kindness and compassion first. I would like to thank my family for always being supportive of the work that I do for Sterling Elementary–the time that I am away from home and the times that they have come to help at the school. I would like to thank our staff and students who are the heart of our school and the Sterling community. I would like to thank the families of Sterling for trusting me with their children every day. So many people to thank!”

Commissioner Michael Johnson reached out to say, “Congratulations Principal Kelly and thank you for being an example of citizenship for your students.” He added that Principal Kelly is, “not just a school leader, she also serves her community.”

Principal Kelly will travel to Washington D.C. in October 2022 for two days of activities planned to honor and bring well-deserved recognition to the elementary administrators selected by their respective states.

AAESP believes that Denise Kelly is well deserving of the National Distinguished Principals’ Award. We are proud to acknowledge her leadership and commitment to Alaska’s children representing Alaska’s elementary principals.


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Fireweed Academy Principal interviews

The final three candidate interviews for the new Fireweed Academy principal will be on Zoom, Wednesday, May 4, 2022, beginning at 6:00 PM. Everyone who participates will receive a survey link to provide audience input.

Zoom doors to the audience open for ten minutes at 3:00; 4:00; 5:00; 6:00; 7:00; and 8:00 PM

Zoom Link

Meeting ID: 835 7947 8933

Passcode: 088777

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National Teacher Appreciation Week!

“This week is National Teacher Appreciation week! I want to thank all of our teachers for their hard work and dedication to our students, their families, and our communities. The work you have done, and continue to do, is incredible and has made a huge impact on the future of our students. Because of your work, our district stands out as an example in the state of Alaska for all that can be good and positive in education. At a time when people tend to look and rally around the negative, our district and schools are able to continually show our communities and state the significant positive impact our teachers have in the lives of our students. I’m honored to work with our teachers as together we ensure our schools meet the needs of all of our student population in KPBSD. Thank you!”

-Superintendent Clayton Holland
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Celebrate School Principals

“Every year, May 1 is the official celebration date of National School Principal’s Day. This year, May 1, 2022, is on Sunday. The principals of the KPBSD are second to none, and I am thankful for all they do every day for our students and their families. Our principals are known throughout the State of Alaska for their innovation, effectiveness, and instructional leadership.

To our Principals, thank you so much for all that you do for your students, staff, families, schools, and communities. The positive relationships you build, the structure you provide, and the caring and compassionate approach that you bring to work every day makes a difference in meeting not only the academic, but the social and emotional needs of the lives that you are entrusted with serving. Thank you, and enjoy a wonderful weekend and National School Principal’s Day!”

– Superintendent Clayton Holland
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Caring for the Kenai 2022

“What can I do, invent or create to better care for the environment of the Kenai Peninsula or improve the area’s preparedness for a natural disaster?”

In the 32nd year, on April 21, 2022, students, judges, and the community gathered in person for the first time in three years for the live Caring for the Kenai Top 12 event. Overall participation was lower again this year following the pandemic trend. However, the final 12 ideas were innovative and some were entirely new to the competition!

Superintendent Clayton Holland, a judge for the live competition said, “The Caring for the Kenai highlights all that is good with the Peninsula. The outstanding staff working with our students, the support and engagement of parents, and the hard work, vision, and critical thinking of the students themselves. This competition shows what happens when students are given the space to be creative, when they work hard, research, and apply their skills to a project that has meaning and impact to all of us here on the Kenai Peninsula. I congratulate every student who took part in this event and I thank all the educators who have worked to prepare them. Well done!”

2022 Top 12 Caring For the Kenai

Abigail Youngberg of Cook Inlet Academy took top honors and a $1,600 cash award in the 32nd annual Caring for the Kenai environmental awareness competition for her “Smart Stocker” idea. “The Smart Stocker would prepare everyone for a natural disaster before it happens by getting them emergency food and supplies so they can be prepared,” said the CIA sophomore, She has reached out to Kroger and other major grocery chains to see if they are willing to help her further develop her app.

A sophomore from Nikiski Middle High School earned second place and $1,100 dollars with her B.E.E Bold curriculum for elementary school students, “My curriculum is taught by high school students using near peer teaching to educate elementary school children about the environment across the Peninsula,” explained Jessica Perry. “I see my curriculum as a bridge for younger kids to prepare for the CFK competition,” she said.

Jessica Perry, Nikiski Middle High School

Lauren Lamb of CIA created “Karen for the Kenai” and took 3rd place and the $900 cash award for her digital picture book series about the environment, “I got the idea from a joke my dad said at the dinner table one night and now I’ll be looking for a publisher,” said Lamb in an interview.

Mylan Johnson, Homer High School

Mylan Johnson, a junior at Homer High plans on using recycled French fry oil to power cars, “I was inspired by a friend who powers his boat with vegetable oil. I started researching the idea and found out it had been forgotten and I plan to bring it back to life. I see myself collecting oil and one day converting my diesel truck to run on veggie oil,” said Johnson who earned 4th place and $750 cash.

Kim Leslie, a KPBSD Distance Education teacher from Seward drove to Kenai to the live competition to encourage and support Madison McDonald whose idea took 5th place. She said, “‘I’m interested in CFK but I don’t have any ideas.’ That is usually the first response I get after pitching Caring for the Kenai to my students. ‘Yet,’ I say. ‘You don’t have any ideas yet.’ And then we talk… about where we live, about what they care about, worry about, wonder about. And then the ideas emerge. And that’s the beautiful thing about CFK: they only need an idea. There is no expectation that their idea will truly take off the first year and become a tangible product or effort or event. That might come later with iterations but the first year is just about the idea. As a teacher, this means I simply need to create the space, the time and the support to nourish those ideas—which is pretty easy! The kids are the ones doing the heavy lifting, the real thinking, the research, the interviews, the building, the designing. So CFK is the perfect storm of what science education should be. A student-driven process of inquiry that leads to an authentic, relevant, community-enriching outcome. Yee ha!”

Madison McDonald a KPBSD Connections Homeschool student is creating a free earthquake safety app for kids who find themselves in a real natural disaster situation and want to know what to do next. Her idea won her 5th place honors and a check for $650. In 6th Place winning the $550 dollar cash award with his idea for the microbial use of oil spill cleanup was another Mariner from Homer High, Lucas Nollar.

Merrill Sikorski, contest creator

In addition to the $8,000 in cash awards for the finalists, this year $20,000 will be awarded to the school’s classrooms of the finalists thanks to the CFK signature sponsor Marathon Petroleum Corporation and the community partners Kenai River Raven Lodge, Peninsula Community Health Services, Sweeney’s Clothing, Eyewear Express, Hilcorp, ConocoPhillips, Kenai River Sportfishing Association, and KSRM radio group.

High schools using CFK as part of state standards curriculum this year were: Soldotna High School, Cook Inlet Academy, Homer High School, Kenai Central High School, and Nikiski Middle High School. Students can enter every year of their high school career, whether the contest is assigned in class or not. Each school receives $750 for their participation and the remainder of the $20,000 is allocated according to how the school’s students ranked in the CFK competition. Other finalists that earned $400 each for making it to the final 12 out all the entries submitted were:

  • Laurel Matson & Rebekah Dillingham-CIA for their new CFK jingle.
  • Regan Baker – Homer High – for his Electricity re-invention
  • Caleb Wohlers – Soldotna High – with a Free Play idea
  • Micah Scott – CIA- Polluted Minds
  • Conner West – CIA- RTEC using recycled tires for erosion control
  • Hazel Pearson – Homer High- Decreasing Alaska’s clothing waste

“CFK is an opportunity for Peninsula students to have a real-world experience. The creativity and resiliency of our community and our youth during these trying times brings hope for the future,” said Merrill Sikorski CFK creator. Due to student scheduling conflicts the joint chamber presentation scheduled for April 28, 2022, will now be held May 11, 2022, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Center along with the Soldotna Chamber scholarship awards and is open to the public.

This year’s panel of judges included KPB Assembly president Brent Johnson, Bruce Jackman (Marathon Petroleum Corporation), Clayton Holland, KPBSD Superintendent, Tim Dillon, KPEDD executive director, Ben Wright, PCHS, executive director, Shannon Martin, KRSA executive director and Emily Moss (2021 CFK 1st Place Winner).

Caring for the Kenai website:

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May Board of Education Meeting

The following school board meetings and work sessions will be held in the

Seward High School Theater at 2100 Swetmann St., Seward, AK  99664 unless otherwise noted.

PLEASE NOTE:  The meetings are open to the public.  The public is invited to attend in person and to listen and participate as noted below. 

(877) 853-5257

Conference ID: 708 024 188

When prompted for an Attendee ID, press #.

Zoom ID: 708 024 188

Meeting Schedule

May 2, 2022

Seward High School Theater

Work Sessions-(Public Listening)

2:00 p.m. District Library Presentation

2:30 p.m. Remote/Distance Education Presentation

3:00 p.m. Six Year Plan

3:30 p.m. Finance

4:00 p.m. Board Discussion

6:00 p.m. Business Meeting: (Public Listening and Participation will be as noted on the Agenda in BoardDocs )

If you would like to pre-register to testify telephonically (optional) or if you have any technical difficulties or questions, contact Lisa Gabriel at, 907-714-8836, Monday – Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. To view the agenda and packet items, log on to: To view the live Broadcast log on to or Live Broadcast

May 9, 2022

Denali Conference Room

148 N. Binkley Street

Soldotna, AK  99669

Board Policy Committee

9:00 a.m.

(877) 853-5257

Conference ID: 708 024 188

When prompted for an Attendee ID, press #.

Zoom ID: 708 024 188

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Fireweed Academy Principal interviews

Six principal candidate interviews for the new Fireweed Academy principal will be on Zoom, Tuesday, April 26, 2022, beginning at 3:00 PM. Everyone who participates will receive a survey link to provide audience input.

Zoom doors to the audience open for ten minutes at 3:00; 4:00; 5:00; 6:00; 7:00; and 8:00 PM

Zoom Link
Meeting ID: 871 6420 8774
Passcode: 617118

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a poem, “The Black Sea and the Little Boy”

Meet Damian, a young poet and 6th grade student enrolled in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Remote Learning Program. “The Black Sea and the Little Boy” poem is original work from a narrative poetry lesson utilizing personification. He selected the photo images from Book Creator.

“The Black Sea and the Little Boy”

One Day

Ukrainian Boy

Running away from Russian soldiers

Four long hours

Through the woods

To the Sea

Soldiers left behind

Time to rest

On the Beach

as the boy was resting

the ocean made a boat

the boy woke up

in the sand

he saw written

“come boy

climb in my boat

and sail somewhere safe”

so the boy climbed in

saw a sign saying

“drink the rain

eat my fish

then you will be safe

and healthy”

so he did

and the ocean is kindhearted

despite how hurt he was

he still helped the boy

by Damian

His teacher said, “Our community project this week was to write a narrative poem using personification. Students chose a landform or body of water and another perspective to relate to it. Students read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and studied how he used personification in this narrative poem as a mentor text for the project.”

Daily Community Meetings and weekly Community Projects are a key feature of the KPBSD Remote Learning program that fosters connection and a learning community at a distance for the remote learners.

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Caring for the Kenai competition

On the eve of Earth Day, this Thursday evening the live Caring for the Kenai competition begins at 6:00 PM, in the Little Theater at Kenai Central High School.

In its 32nd year, twelve students will present their innovative ideas in front of a panel of community judges. From simple but practical ideas to the use of hi-tech innovations this year’s proposals will challenge us all to do more for our environment and natural disaster preparedness.

Thank you to the sponsors and everyone who participates in this program benefitting our students, schools, and communities! Tune in to watch the livestream or go in person to support our innovative youth on Thursday!

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Coffee and Kindergarten Art!

During the month of April over 100 pieces of art made by AnnMarie Rudstrom’s Kindergarten students from Soldotna Elementary are on display at Kaladi Brother’s Coffee on Kobuk Ave. in Soldotna, Alaska.

Throughout the school year, Mrs. Rudstrom selected art projects that allowed students to explore various mediums to gain an understanding of the many unique ways art can be created. Most often the projects were connected to units they were studying or seasons of the year. Mrs. Rudstrom believes all children are artists and with the right opportunities and guidance they can create beautiful and meaningful art. Students learned about art concepts such as primary and secondary colors, abstract versus realistic art, titling art to capture the main idea, and how line and color help to create a mood.

On Friday, April 8, 2022, these students took a field trip to the coffee shop to enjoy steamers and to admire their work on display. Students were clearly proud to show off their work to family members and chaperones. This class has received many compliments and encouragement for their beautiful pieces. Be sure to stop by and see it for yourself!

PS: Treat yourself and watch the Soldotna Elementary Kindergarten new registration video for 2022-2023

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