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School board hears concerns in Homer

Posted: September 14, 2011 - 9:16am

By Sammy Crawford’s count, 30 students, parents and community members lined up at the microphone Monday night to make sure the Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board heard their concerns.

“It’s always interesting to come to Homer,” said Crawford, board member representing District 1.

Remarks about Homer High School’s deteriorating track, the lack of a Russian language instructor at Razdolna School and the upcoming re-chartering for Fireweed Academy flooded the half hour set aside for public comments.

Homer High sophomore Cassidy Soitsman compared the school’s hole- and crack-riddled track to one she recently competed on at Lathrop High School in Fairbanks.

“Their track is a lot better than ours,” said Soitsman. “Ours is the worst track in the state. … It’s an unfair disadvantage to us. … If you would highly consider giving us a new track, we’d appreciate that.”

Others commented on the use of the track by high school students in all sports and by members of the community, as well as the impact the deteriorated track has on middle school athletes and diminished scholarship opportunities for seniors. In 2009, condition of the track caused Dr. Allan Gee, HHS principal, to close the track to events involving other schools. Gee has said safety concerns also may cause him to close the track to Homer High students if funding for repairs is not provided this school year.

Chris Perk, who teaches physical education at Homer High, said the track wasn’t a luxury.

“This is my classroom. It’s a necessity,” said Perk. “It’s a proven fact we need good facilities for our children to feel successful in. To do that, I urge district officials to see that track takes the highest priority.”

Students, parents and former Razdolna School students spoke of their desire for a Russian language class.

“I was born in Oregon and went to school in Voznesenka and got to enjoy Russian in school,” said a parent identifying herself as Daria. Now married and living in Razdolna, she said her children “have not been that fortunate. I’m here to ask you to give my children the opportunity to have Russian classes as part of their school classes.”

Another parent gave his comments in Russian, followed by a translation in English.

“As you know, Razdolna is one of the smallest, but quickly growing schools,” he said. “Our biggest wish is to give our children a solid, basic education. … We’re satisfied with minimums, but for years one of our requests was to have Russian taught to our students.”

During the board’s work session earlier in the day and again during the evening meeting, Dr. Steve Atwater, school district superintendent, noted the district did not meet 2010-2011 AYP, Adequate Yearly Progress, requirements.

“The district did not make AYP for grades 9-12, but did for grades 3-5 and 6-8. This is an improvement over last year.  I think we should feel good about that,” said Atwater.

Of the 30 separate categories considered by AYP, scores in five resulted in the “does not meet” rating: language arts performance for Alaska Native and American Indian students, students with disabilities and LEP, limited English proficiency, students; as well as mathematics scores for students with disabilities and LEP students. The district also fell short in its high school graduation rate.

Although short of the AYP targets for the last three years, the district continues to make improvements, according to Assistant Superintendent Sean Dusek. The improvements are reflected in two of the three grade spans meeting this year’s AYP goal, a possible result of interventionists working with students in the elementary grades who are now transitioning into grades 6-8. As those students move into high school, an increased graduation rate also may occur, said Dusek.

In addition, the district has established goals centered on student achievement and is keeping a close eye on the graduation rate.

“And we always are looking to help teachers get better with their craft,” said Dusek. “As they become better at what they do, especially in the areas of establishing positive relationships with kids, that is one of the best ways to improve your graduation rate.”

An enrollment decline of an estimated 223 students for the 2011-2012 school year also has district administrators’ attention, Atwater told the board. The official count will be taken in October.

The next meeting of the KPBSD board is Oct. 17.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.

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