A Principal’s Self-Interview

Hi.  My name is Anthony Oucharek, and from the start, I must tell you that people intrigue me.  All people of all ages have stories that shape who they are – what they value and what they believe in.  When I finally get a chance to meet you – students, parents, and colleagues – I’m going to ask some of these questions:

  • Tell me a little of your story.
  • What brings you to DAA?
  • How is DAA different from other schools you’ve attended?
  • What’s important to you?

I think it’s only fair that you should know some of those things about me, too.  Here, then, is my self-interview.  Thank you so much for taking an interest in me so that when we finally get a chance to meet, you’ll already kind of know me.

Tell me a little about your background: family, education, etc.

  • I was born and raised on the Canadian prairies, 4½ hours north of Bismarck, an only son, sandwiched between two sisters… yes, middle child syndrome.
  • My early years were spent in the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox faith, but my parents had been searching for truth for some time. By the time I was starting school, they enrolled me in the newly started Junior Academy in the basement of the Seventh-day Adventist Church they would join soon after.
  • My parents were denied an education… dad finished 8th grade, mom 11th, but both valued education and determined their children would have one. In Saskatchewan, boys often miss school at seeding or harvest time to help put in or take off crops – my parents wouldn’t hear of me missing school; Some years, Spring and Fall, I was the only boy in our little church school.
  • I attended Yorkton Junior Academy through 8th grade. My 9th grade year, a local Catholic school had a property run-in with the public school district resulting in a decision that saw no church school students able to ride on the public school buses.  We lived more than 30 miles into the country, so My parents switched my younger sister and I to a small town public school near our farm.  I also completed 10th grade at a regional public high school – around 3000 kids in 10th through 12th grades – before heading out to the Adventist academy in Lacombe, Alberta for the last two years of high school.
  • I went to Kingsway College in Ontario, Canada, to do my student teaching and returned to Alberta to marry my high school best friend.
  • One year later, I graduated from Canadian Union College (now Burman University) in Alberta, Canada, with a degree in physical education and religion, but did not go into education right away as my plan was to attempt to get into medical school.
  • I wasn’t accepted into med school immediately, so my wife and I sold our car and rented out our home, taking off for South Africa to fill a student mission position at Helderberg College.
  • After coming back to Canada I taught at Red River Valley Junior Academy in Winnipeg, Manitoba for 3 years before moving to the north end of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, where for 9 years I taught English, Bible and PE and also served as principal at Avalon Junior Academy. As the school grew from 48 to more than 150 students, my role changed to teaching only one or two classes and doing more administrative duties.
  • From BC, I moved to Pasco Washington where I continued as the principal and taught English and technology or PE for the next 16 and a half years. During my time at Tri-City Adventist School, I completed my Master’s degree in Education with an endorsement in school leadership and supervision of instruction.
  • I left that to serve a short stint at Washington State University, Tri-Cities, where I was the STEM Project Manager. That year, I also left 12 years of coaching hockey for Walla Walla University to coach a year of Junior Hockey in the NORPAC.
  • Most recently, I am coming off of 2 years at the helm of a day school in the heart of Orlando, Florida. We have three administrators and 22 staff serving the needs of about 280 pre-K through 8th graders.  I had come to Florida with the intent of perhaps working here until my retirement (still a long way off), however, even in my capacity as Junior Academy principal, my work in the past has predominantly been with the high schoolers – and I have missed working with that cluster.
  • My family consists of my wife Doreen and I, our oldest son, Quisto, his wife, Tyna and their almost three-year-old son, Koa, our younger son Quinell, and our daughter Quijuana, and her husband, Brian. Quijuana and Brian reside in Minot where she nurses, so that has been part of the draw to the Dakotas.
  • Doreen’s and my parents are alive and well, though they are aging, and the thought of being closer to them has helped us make the decision to come this way.

What drew you to the field of education?

  • I wanted medical school so I enrolled in all the maths and sciences for that; meanwhile all my friends on the hockey team and on the acrosports team were doing PE, so still loading up on the sciences, I switched my major to PE so I’d be better able to hang out with them.
  • At the time, I had not planned to stay in education, but it has been so much fun that before I knew it, more than 30 years had gone by; regularly, I have talked of applying to medical school. I’m starting to believe, however, that that ship has sailed.
  • I must say that through all of these years, I have been in the buildings that my children spent their days in… I have coached and attended their concerts, games, and other activities… I have been able to support many children as they have made decisions about life, about careers and about God. I have been truly blessed in education.
  • In our Adventist schools, I believe we have the opportunity to serve up quality academics. It is what I received from my Adventist schools and it is the one constant that we should be able to provide for as few or as many who will choose it.

How do you see DAA as different from other schools you have worked at?

  • I’ve never served as principal at a boarding school. Though I have had up to 40 high school students in my schools, so even though I’ve run an online service to support students who needed an alternative method of ensuring they would graduate, there will still be a steep learning curve as to what the full job entails.  My own teaching has predominantly been to high school students.  I have always tried to stay involved with teaching at least one class.
  • I am intrigued at all that there is for students to experience at DAA… the shop classes, horses, a room where the acrosports program can stay set up – just to name a few.
  • I am excited at the possibility that my home can serve as a place for students to drop in. Our children have been gone from our home for the past several years, but for about 28 years, there has always been someone living with us.  We have had 5 other high schoolers live in our home with us from a year to 5 years at a time.  It will be nice to fill that void again.
  • I have led out in at least a dozen mission trips. I am looking forward to being involved in that culture again.
  • I believe that I have not yet imagined what weekends on a boarding campus might look like.
  • Perhaps the biggest challenge will be to serve a constituency that covers such a vast area. In the past, I have made a point of visiting every student’s home… that could be a challenge.

What is the greatest potential you see at DAA?

  • There are so many things here, I find it difficult to select any one. I do especially like the shop classes and all the music.  In my experience, so much of our teaching is either academic or entertaining.  I am excited to be coming to a school where we recognize the value of vocational skill development.  Even those who pursue academia in their futures are blessed by learning the skills that are taught in these types of classes.
  • I also see the vastness of the territory as a blessing. It gives us such a great area to serve in.  The early Christian church spread the news of Jesus Christ as they were persecuted because it forced them to leave the centers and move to the outlying areas.  We have that same possibility – without the persecution.  Our students come, develop and practice their story, then go out and lead and share in their communities.  Enthusiasm builds and more people want to “come and see” or “taste and know”…  Our school should be ready to grow.
  • The staff seems to like each other and do things together… Jesus says, “By this shall all men know you are my disciples, by the love that you have for one another…” Nothing will further God’s work faster in the Dakotas than if we use this as our prime witnessing.
  • I look forward to getting to know what’s important to the people who have worked so hard to build and maintain such an impressive school. Those people are truly a huge part of what makes DAA what it is.

What do you see as the greatest challenges?

  • Often, the greatest challenges are best left unspoken. I solicit your prayers and support as we bring the students, parents, staff and community together into an even greater spirit of cohesiveness.  I am anxious to promote through communication and practice, a spirit of unity that will cause those looking on to take a step back…
  • It used to be that Adventist kids went to Adventist schools – no questions asked. That isn’t the case anymore.  There are so many choices for education, and unfortunately, students sometimes make decisions based on the sports or other programs we offer or don’t offer.  Also, more families are opting to keep their children at home longer.  To win people over to DAA we need to select those things we choose to offer based on the needs we can competently meet.  We may already be an academic school, but if we are not, it is the first thing we must shore up so that our students are well-served in choosing us, so that they will have options wherever they choose to go after they have finished with us.  This means that we may have to cut back on trying to offer too many extras, so that we can do the things we choose to do, well.  I’ve not been involved enough yet at DAA to see whether this is an issue.  I do know that as we water down soup, we eventually find ourselves spooning water into our mouths.  That’s what happens too often when we try to be all to all.
  • Academic performance, athletic performance, spiritual performance… all are measurable. We need to review regularly and adjust to reflect that we have learned from the data.
  • Sometimes our schools get into comparison wars as to who does what better. I think that we need to share what we do well.  If other conferences have students who need the classes we offer, let’s make DAA available to them.  Sometimes we worry too much about territory.  I want the students at DAA to be here because they want to be here, not because their options were limited.  Inclusion, not exclusion, is the secret to a church that can shake the world.
  • Probably most dear to me is that we live in a world that is intent on sending a message. If it is not so already, I would like to see us institute a system of management that operates on a restorative discipline model rather than a punitive discipline model.  This can be difficult to manage effectively but is integral to our young people developing a salvation-oriented mindset.

Is there a particular story from your own childhood of a teacher that made a difference in your life?

  • Though I do not remember it, I was in third grade before I really learned to read. Apparently, I had a great memory and I would recite stories so that the belief was that I was doing fine, but at the end of second grade, my teacher caught me.  He ran several interventions, all of which I masterfully dodged, until he finally had me cornered. All of my books were painstakingly rewritten without pictures, page numbers, and in no particular order so as to make absolutely no sense.  The logic behind this was that it would force me to sound out the words.  He even wrote new “stories” and books for me throughout the year.
  • Now, I am so grateful. Today, I am a voracious reader.  It is not difficult for me.  How different my life would have been had he not persevered, had he not been a master of his craft, had he not seen me as worth the investment.
  • My belief system is that every person can learn, though I recognize that by high school, individual choice plays big into learning. As a teacher, I want to help students succeed.

Tell me some snippets about yourself that others might find surprising or interesting.

  • In my last year of high school, I was on top of three-highs on the acrosports team… 5’1’’ and under 100 pounds, I was worried I would never grow. In my first year of college, I was a base at 5’7” and 195 pounds.  In high school, sometimes situations change rapidly.
  • I coached State, University, and Junior Hockey.
  • I pitched fastball for Western Province in South Africa’s National Softball program.
  • I played senior men’s football in what would go on to be a semi-pro league in Alberta, Canada.
  • I am a deep-water licensed SCUBA diver.

A side note… don’t know if it means anything, but in our schools, too often I have seen decisions made because they were the easier choices or because it was expeditious to make those decisions… I want to do the right thing for each student because it is the right thing for that student – not because someone might take notice or even because the time is right, but only because it is the right thing to do.  I am especially frustrated with decisions of convenience.

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