Send this article to Promobot

Unalaska's Conwell named Superintendent of the Year

September 2nd, 2017 | Jim Paulin Print this article   Email this article  

Unalaska City School District Supt. John Conwell said he was "pleasantly surprised" to learn he'd been named state superintendent of the year at a recent school board meeting. And now he's a candidate for national honors, according to the Alaska Superintendent's Association.

"ASA will advance Superintendent Conwell's candidacy to the 2018 National Superintendent of the Year program, knowing he is highly respected by his colleagues, board members and constituents throughout Alaska? All State Superintendents of the Year will be honored in February at the 2018 AASA National Conference on Education in Nashville, Tennessee," according to the Juneau-based group.

The Superintendent of the Year program, now in its 31st year, pays tribute to a school system's top leader who exemplifies effectiveness, knowledge, leadership, ethics and commitment.

The 2018 school year started last week in Unalaska, in one of the "smoothest starts to the school year I can remember," Conwell said Tuesday. The only minor glitch, he said, was school traffic warning lights which weren't working the first day, but were soon repaired.

And in a very positive development for school finances, he said, student enrollment is up substantially — right around 400 — a significant increase from a few years ago, when it dropped down to about 360. State education funding is determined by the number of students.

Conwell has committed decades of service to the Unalaska City School District, serving 10 years as assistant principal and principal for Unalaska High School and is currently in his 11th year as the district's superintendent. His longevity of service demonstrates an unwavering commitment to the students of Unalaska and a determination to see them succeed. Through selfless leadership, Conwell has gained the trust and respect of both students and colleagues, and continues to serve as an inspiration to educators throughout Alaska, according to ASA.

"It is encouraging to see the Alaska Superintendents Association recognize leaders like John Conwell," Michael Johnson, commissioner of education said. "The Unalaska City School District is one of the highest performing in our state, with a graduation rate of 96.6 percent.?John's leadership has supported students pre-kindergarten through post-secondary education. It is a privilege and honor to work alongside John."

Jim Wilson, the principal of Unalaska High School, spoke to the critical role Conwell plays in the community.

"Mr. Conwell has been on the forefront of transforming Unalaska City School District into one of the highest achieving and most recognized rural schools in the state of Alaska," he said. "Simply put, Mr. Conwell is the heartbeat of our school and in many ways our community."

Under Superintendent Conwell's leadership, Unalaska High School is a 2011 Blue Ribbon award winning school and Eagle's View Elementary was a 2013 Blue Ribbon finalist. Unalaska is viewed as a leader in the state based on a lengthy record of student academic success. With a significant number of the student population being ESL (English as a Second Language) and needing additional support, Conwell has worked to create several programs including an RTI program, ESL program and professional development designed specifically to provide support for the needs of all students.

Conwell's gift of bringing the community together has resulted in one of the most connected communities in Alaska. He has connected Unalaska's city council, mayor, the Qawalangin Tribe, the Ounalashka Corporation and the local business community together to rally in support of their schools.

"Conwell's sphere of influence does not, however, stop within Unalaska, nor does his advocacy on behalf of the school district end within the community. Conwell is no stranger to the halls of the State Capitol building in Juneau, regularly educating the Legislature on behalf of the interests of students and teachers across the state," according to ASA.

Conwell is considered a mentor to many and his constant encouragement has sustained many educators along their path? Some have even discovered their own passion for teaching through even the briefest contact, according to ASA.

Sami King, a teacher at Palmer High School, tells her story of a brief encounter with Conwell when he visited her high school class in Montana. "His passion for teaching and Alaska opened a door for me, which I had no idea existed. Still, well over 20 years later, I remember very clearly the passion and excitement as he spoke. That day, listening to Mr. Conwell speak gave my future focus. I am just finishing my 19th year teaching in Alaska. It was his passion for education and Alaska that opened that door for me."

Two former Unalaska superintendents were likewise honored in past years — Steve Cathers after he moved to Valdez, and Darrell Sanborn while he was in Unalaska.

Jim Paulin can be reached at


Copyright 2018 The Bristol Bay Times is a publication of Alaska Media, LLC. This article is © 2018 and limited reproduction rights for personal use are granted for this printing only. This article, in any form, may not be further reproduced without written permission of the publisher and owner, including duplication for not-for-profit purposes. Portions of this article may belong to other agencies; those sections are reproduced here with permission and Alaska Media, LLC makes no provisions for further distribution.