December Update

Alaska Association of Elementary School Principals

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What an exciting month we have ahead of us! The holiday spirit is definitely in the air!

Still, while this is a joyful time for many of our students, it is also a very uncertain time for those less fortunate. They may be worried about the holiday break, where they will get their next meal, or where they may be staying. As you get behaviors in your school, please think about this and ask if this student is that child. It will help you better understand and deal with these situations appropriately as an educator.

You all deserve the break ahead of you but remember, January is a busy month when you return. Report cards, Parent/Teacher Conferences, and a new semester are all coming up in January. If you can prepare a little before you return, it will get the new year off on the right foot.

The RTI/MTSS Conference is happening in January and will be beneficial as it will help cover many aspects of the new Alaska Reads Act. Please consider attending this conference. We will also have an Aspiring Leaders table at the conference and are looking forward to talking to those educators who may be interested in becoming a principal. Encourage those leaders in your building to stop by and speak to us. I plan to be at the conference, please stop me and say hello. I look forward to seeing everyone there.

Merry Christmas! I hope the new year brings you good health and new and fresh inspirations.

Enjoy your break,

Joshua Gill

AAESP President

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Principal, Denali Elementary School

Denali Elementary was recently named ESEA Distinguished School for 2022-23 and we are so excited about it! We have 300 students preK through 5th grade & are located in Fairbanks. Our school is located right in the downtown area so the majority of our students are within a mile and walk to school.

We have a motto here at Denali, “We come to school every day to learn, take responsibility for our actions and treat everyone with love, kindness, and respect”. This motto of spreading love, kindness and respect was given to us from an Alaskan native Artist and carver, Bert Ryan in the late 1990s, who, alongside our students, carved our very own totem pole which stands in our playground today.

Over the last few years our school saw, like many of you have, our achievement gap widen. The pandemic created multiple levels of academic knowledge within one grade level. Our kids were moving on to middle school without the essential reading blocks needed to navigate the world. This year our staff collaborated together to create a building wide Walk to Read program. We assessed every student for their phonological awareness. The intervention materials we use contain practices which are all 100% aligned to a Science of Reading phonics-based, comprehensive scope & sequence.

Included in our SOR lessons are letter sounds, orthographic word mapping, decodable high frequency words instruction, nonsense words, dictation, word chains, phonemic awareness, decodable books and comprehension. Our protected walk to read time happens 5 days a week, 60 minutes a day and is everywhere throughout our building. Nearly every staff member has a group to teach. We have 24 different groups with anywhere between 8-20 students in each group. These groups are at the “just right” level for the child's needs, regardless of their grade. Our students in special education are also mixed into our groups, thus giving them additional individualized education in reading.

We have trained our tutors in the same methods so every student receives the instruction they need and we know it’s uniform throughout the building. This could not happen without extraordinary collaboration of our staff. We have weekly PLC meetings and quarterly data team meetings to talk about student progress and possible movement between groups. Our decisions are data driven. Our staff is deeply committed to increasing literacy for our students. We know that reading is a foundational skill necessary for virtually everything we do. It opens possibilities for all children to succeed—to learn and grow, to explore and imagine, to investigate and verify, and to lead fulfilling lives. Reading well instills confidence and helps reduce inequities. That’s what happens at Denali Elementary. Our temperatures may get down to 50 below zero, but our building is warm & full of love, kindness and respect. And reading, lots and lots of reading!

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Professional Development Opportunities

Don't miss the upcoming RTI/MTSS Effective Instruction Conference scheduled for January 28th and 29th in Anchorage! Hear from nationally recognized experts and explore the latest research on what is working, now. Register at the link below - We are looking forward to seeing you there!

Also, mark your calendars for the 2nd Annual Science of Reading Symposium to be held in Anchorage April 28th - 30th, 2023. Learn more at Alaska Science of Reading Symposium.


Online Course: Principal Leadership for The Early Grades

NAESP is now offering a seven-month, online course in early learning. The course, Principal Leadership for the Early Grades, is specifically designed for principals, assistant principals, directors, and teacher leaders to expand their knowledge and skills in best early childhood practices in a virtual online setting. The course will be facilitated by an online instructor with participants gaining practical resources and knowledge of NAESP’s six early learning competencies outlined in A Principals Guide to Early Learning and the Early Grades.

Participants who wish to earn graduate credits at zero tuition cost can apply to Bethel University online to be a non-degree seeking, individual course student. There is a one-time $200 transcription fee.

Learn more at

Don't miss your opportunity to engage with state leaders during our Alaska PK-12 Monthly Collaboration Meetings the third Tuesday of each month at 10:00 a.m. Susy McKenzie with DEED will be presenting critical information on the Alaska Reads Act during our December and January meetings. Following the presentation will be an opportunity to collaborate and talk with your fellow AAESP members and share what is going on in your communities. We look forward to seeing you on December 20th!

Nominations for National Distinguished Principal and National Outstanding Assistant Principal are now open!

Each year, AAESP selects one principal to serve as the National Distinguished Principal for the state of Alaska and represent our state at the national level. Nominations are now open, and anyone can nominate a principal with a minimum of five years of experience in the principalship and three consecutive years of membership in NAESP.

New this year - AAESP is also accepting nominations for the National Outstanding Assistant Principal Award. Nominations are open for a practicing assistant principal who demonstrates exceptional leadership and has at least two years of experience in the role.

More information on both of these award programs can be found at:

Please submit your nominations to by February 15th, 2023.

Alaska Association of Elementary School Principals

Jennifer Schmitz, Executive Director

Jen Rinaldi, Deputy Director