It’s a bit of a workplace cliché to say that your colleagues are like family.

But at Kenai Middle School, staff say it’s actually true.

“I would say KMS is rightfully family,” said Dixie St. John, the school nurse.

She said it was because of Vaughn Dosko, the school principal. Dosko was just named Principal of the Year 2022 for the Alaska Secondary School Principals’ Association Region 3, which includes the districts of Kenai, Chugach and Kodiak.

“His superpower is finding people who work really well together,” added secretary Christie Holmes. “So he finds the right people who want the best for the kids and the best for Kenai Middle.”

Vaughn said it was very deliberate. In the 16 years since he arrived at Kenai Middle School, he has helped hire all but one of its current educators. And he said finding teachers who are a good fit is a priority.

“The whole culture and that family environment and the things that Kenai is known for – when a teacher retired or moved out of state, we went out and found someone who fits the criteria that Kenai Middle needs,” Dosco said.

Dosko has been in charge of Kenai Middle for 11 years. Prior to that, he was the school’s deputy principal, which earned him an award of the Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals for his work in this role.

He is from Saskatchewan, Canada, and first came to the United States for college, earning degrees in North Dakota and Idaho and landing his first teaching job there.

Then in 2000, a main concert took him to the village of Tuluksak, near Bethel. He stayed for six years – longer than any director before.

“The village was a great place for me to learn and make mistakes in perfecting my craft,” he said. “But it’s different. Over there, you’re the mayor, you’re the vet, you’re the doctor, you’re everything, which I liked because it put a lot of responsibility but it made you feel important. And I was ready for that challenge.

Ken Felchle, deputy head of Kenai Middle School, believes the bush experience had a big impact on Dosko, motivating him to spare no effort to ensure every student has opportunities. Dosko said his staff are tireless, sometimes working long days and sacrificing their personal lives to do their best for their students.

Felchle was a teacher at Kenai Middle for 25 years. He said his boss was an incredible supporter of educators at that time. And, ultimately, it was Dosko who encouraged him to pursue studies in administration.

“I guess the biggest compliment to Vaughn is that I never would have even thought about it if he hadn’t been in that position or if it had been at another school,” he said.

Last December, Felchle graduated with a degree in administration. Dosko was his mentor throughout the three and a half years it took him to get there.

He said he was still learning from him today.

“There’s very little I do in my job that I’m not going to say to him first, ‘Hey, what do you think?'”

Neither Felchle nor Dosko spend as much time as they would like with the school’s more than 400 students. They said that was one of the downsides of working on the administrative side.

But you will always find Dosko in front of the buses in the morning or in the cafeteria at lunchtime.

“I intentionally do a lot of things in my day, so I have that interaction,” he said.

Being a school administrator for the past two years has also been a challenge.

Dosko said he worked hard to keep a sense of normality during COVIDcontinuing with a few programming and electives while other schools and districts shut down.

“Some people would wonder if we did it safely,” he said. “I think we did it brilliantly. Was there a learning curve? Yes. But our enrollment grew and during this time of COVID our enrollment was awesome.”

Amid the challenges posed by COVID, as well as national and local issues with teacher retention in Alaska, Dosko said having happy teachers is really important.

That’s where that family feeling comes in.

“When someone feels supported, they’re ready to do anything,” Dosko said. , ‘This is a special place, we have something special.’ And it’s because of the people.

St. John, Kenai Middle’s nurse, agrees. She said Dosko never blinks when a teacher or student needs something.

“Every teacher, every person here, I feel like they bend over backwards because they do that,” she said. “And I think that just creates an environment where you want to do good. And do more than good.

Dosko will receive her award at the annual Alaska Principals’ Conference in Anchorage in October.