New St. Stephen's principal adds to goals

Sep 20, 2014 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

St. Stephen's Indian School has a new principal walking the halls this school year. James Stewart is the new elementary school principal replacing Elma Brown, who is now serving as the superintendent after the resignation of Mike Hejtmanek.

Before moving to Wyoming, Stewart was a teacher for six years in the North West Arctic Borough School District in Alaska. For the last two years, he has filled in as a substitute principal in the district, which held 120 students in grades K-12. Before that he participated in a principal internship for two years.

Stewart, originally from Idaho, was also a middle school math teacher for 14 years in Idaho. That school served roughly 700 students.

He received his bachelor's degree from Southern Utah University and his master's degree in education leadership from the University of Alaska.

His wife, Janeil Stewart, and two teenage daughters made the move with him this summer. Janeil was hired as a kindergarten teacher at St. Stephen's.

In Alaska, the family lived in one of the 11 remote villages in the arctic circle, roughly 600 miles from Anchorage -- the state's most populous city.

New goals

Stewart said he is not new to the strong emphasis of culture in the classroom. He said a majority of the students in the Alaskan school are Inupiaq -- an Alaska Native culture.

Culture awareness is one of three goals he established for the school.

With culture sensitivity, he said everyone would be able to gain knowledge of an important component in education.

"A big part of our kid's lives is their culture," Stewart said. "It's a big part of understanding your students."

He added that staff in Alaska had to take classes centered on students' culture.

"Unless we become familiar with that, it's hard for us to know," he said.

Another focus is instructional collaboration, which would help teachers at St. Stephen's share their skills and be given opportunities to offer additional tools to other staff members.

"We've got a lot of experience here as far as teachers that have been here many years," he said. "But they often don't have the chance to share the knowledge."

He also said it will be important to extend the culture awareness out into the community as well as bring the community into the school.

A third goal will be building student relationships that can help the school be more than a place to learn.

"We want to make sure that every one of our students knows that we care for them," Stewart said.

St. Stephen's has instilled the three B's at its schools: Be respectful, be responsible and be safe. Stewart added "be kind" because he said it worked well in Alaska when there were "hard feelings" in the school and in the community.

"That was the only 'be' we had at that time," he said. "I was so impressed with it that I just brought it with me."

Overall, Stewart said he plans to continue with the goal of meeting the adequate yearly progress measures.

Stewart said he has been visiting classrooms and walking the halls since the first day of school. He also said he looks forward to a Halloween-themed open house Oct. 30.

On a more personal note, he plans to enjoy football again, which he said was not very popular in Alaska. He also looks forward to visiting his oldest daughter in Idaho more often.

He said his only visit to Wyoming was to Yellowstone National Park, but he was pleased with the rest of the state as he made his way to Fremont County.

"It's just gorgeous," he said. "We're really happy to be here."

He won't miss the frequent below-zero temperatures in Alaska, he added, and he is eager to learn about the American Indian culture on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Print Story
Read The Ranger...