Nelson Island School Site Administrator Michael Robbins speaks during a community forum for finalists in the running to be Ketchikan’s next superintendent. Ketchikan’s school board voted unanimously to offer the job to Robbins on Thursday. (Screenshot from KPUtv video)

Ketchikan’s school board has selected the principal of a rural school in Southwest Alaska as the district’s next superintendent of schools.

Michael Robbins is the principal of a K-12 school in Toksook Bay, a coastal community of roughly 550 more than 100 miles southwest of Bethel in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Before that, he was a principal and special services director in Syracuse, New York. He says he has more than 25 years of experience in education.

Robbins was one of three candidates interviewed for the job. He told the board that in his roughly three years in Toksook Bay, the school’s graduation rate has climbed from roughly 40% to 90%.

“We turned it around here at Nelson Island School not because we put more into academics — we did — but also because we wanted to get the kids to feel safe, too: that they can come to us, that they can talk to us, that they can have a conversation, they can tell us what’s going on in their world. And that makes us better educators,” Robbins told the school board during a virtual interview on Jan. 31.

Ketchikan’s school board deliberated for roughly two hours in closed session on Thursday before announcing their unanimous choice. Board members did not explain their rationale for moving to hire Robbins over the other two candidates during the meeting.

But on Friday, School Board Member Bridget Mattson said in a statement to KRBD that Robbins’ experience driving student success helped the board decide he was the best choice for Ketchikan’s students.

“The school board’s priority is students first. Mr. Robbins’ alignment with that in his student centered administrative ethos, along (with) his experience with innovative solutions to drive student achievement, helped guide our decision to offer him the permanent superintendent position. His priorities are student engagement and relationships, and his background demonstrates his ability to use that paradigm to develop school cultures that engage students and promote learning,” Mattson said.

Mattson is the board’s designated media spokesperson for this week.

The three candidates faced a series of public interviews with the school board and meet-and-greets with local stakeholders in the final stages of the hiring process. School Board President Stephen Bradford said in a statement on Friday that the board had worked to get the finalists in front of important stakeholder groups, including staff, students and community members.

“We received a significant amount of feedback from those groups, and that feedback was given strong consideration in our decision,” Bradford said.

Bradford thanked Interim Superintendent Melissa Johnson during Thursday’s meeting. She has led the district since Beth Lougee, Ketchikan’s prior superintendent, resigned last year after intense criticism and personal tragedy. Johnson was also interviewed for the long-term superintendent position.

“She has done and will continue to do a great job as an interim superintendent, and it’s very much appreciated. I have certainly enjoyed working with her as president of the board. And I’m sure that I will continue to enjoy that relationship. I also look forward to building the relationship with Michael Robbins, assuming he accepts the offer,” Bradford said.

The third finalist was Greg Fowler, an administrator in Arizona.

The board appointed members Paul Robbins Jr. and Bridget Mattson to negotiate a contract with the new superintendent in line with guidelines set by the Association of Alaska School Boards. The board contracted with the nonprofit to advertise the position and conduct an initial screening of the candidates.

Bradford said Friday that Robbins would obtain a superintendent’s endorsement on his teaching certificate before starting work with Ketchikan’s school district.

Michael Robbins is not related to Ketchikan school board member Paul Robbins Jr.

This story has been updated with additional statements from Stephen Bradford and Bridget Mattson received after publication.