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Community discusses Soldotna area school reconfiguration

Focusing the conversation

Posted: February 12, 2013 - 11:23pm  |  Updated: February 13, 2013 - 9:31am
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Darren Jones talks to the community about why he supports a school district proposal that would combine the two high schools in Soldotna into one Monday Feb. 11, 2013 during a community meeting at Skyview High School in Soldotna, Alaska.  Jones, who has been teaching at Skyview since it opened said he thought the move would provide more opportunity to students.  Rashah McChesney
Rashah McChesney
Darren Jones talks to the community about why he supports a school district proposal that would combine the two high schools in Soldotna into one Monday Feb. 11, 2013 during a community meeting at Skyview High School in Soldotna, Alaska. Jones, who has been teaching at Skyview since it opened said he thought the move would provide more opportunity to students.

Skyview High School principal Randy Neill set aside his love of purple and panthers Monday to advocate for one unified high school in Soldotna.

Nearly 80 community members, students, teachers, parents and school administration officials gathered in the Skyview library to talk about a school restructuring plan and, at times, the discussion grew contentious as people voiced their concerns or support for the elimination of the Skyview tradition.

“I feel like I’m caught in between. You want what’s best for your kids here and what’s best for your kids here is to graduate with Skyview,” Neill said. “But you realize what’s best for the community and with declining enrollment you’re cutting programs every year, you know if you bring the two schools together ... you can offer a lot better programs, a lot better future for our incoming kids.”

Currently, the district is promoting a reconfiguration of Soldotna area schools into six kindergarten-through-sixth-grade elementary schools, two seventh-though-ninth-grade middle schools and one tenth-through-12th-grade high school. Community meetings to collect input also were held at each of the other schools affected.

While the final structure of the schools has yet to be determined, the community gathered to primarily discuss the merits of the proposed reconfiguration.

Several people said they were concerned with divisions between the two schools and how the community has been torn between allegiance to two high schools.

Ken Tarbox, former site council president in the school district, said he remembered Skyview’s opening being controversial.

“I remember two years after this school opened, we had hundreds of parents over at SoHi that were wanting to close this school,” Tarbox said. “What’s bad about that — when you talk about community fractions — that started before this school even opened. This school has been under the gun from day one.”

Tarbox said he believed community divisions were among parents, not students.

“I really kind of object to the idea that we have to unify the community,” he said. “It’s really important for adults to set the model here about bringing a community together and the students do much better than the adults do. Students get along much better between the two schools than the adults.”

Combining the two schools, Tarbox said, would not necessarily heal community divisions.

“I think it’s a really bad reason to say we’re bringing schools together,” he said. “I think high school genocide is not the way to do that and that’s what happens when you say that ‘we’re going to kill this school off so the community can feel good.’ Trust me, that’s not the way to solve that problem. The way to solve it is for adults to be adults.”

Tarbox said he also had not seen the district come forward with metrics on student achievement between the two schools and what would happen if high school student bodies were combined.

“I think that’s important to get across to the community because if you’re going to bring two schools together the metrics have got to show that it’s going to be a benefit, or at least you’re solving a problem ... I’d like to look at decisions relative to their impact on kids, not on these other kinds of esoteric values you’ve been throwing out there.”

Darren Jones, Skyview teacher and parent, agreed with Tarbox that the social problems between the two schools were more between parents than students.

“I think we’ve had, depending on where you live and where your kids go to school, you’ve had to choose what side of the fence you’re on,” Jones said. “Without any question the hardest is going to be on the parents and teachers. I think it’s going to be a lot easier on these kids to go back and be in class with the kids that they grew up with.”

Jones, who has taught at Skyview since it opened, told the group he was passionate about saving Skyview, but came to the realization that what he wanted was not necessarily best for the kids.

“I’ve had about two years of thinking about this every day because 19 years of my career is here, my kids are all invested. I have more purple clothes than you can imagine. So I was probably one of the biggest advocates of keeping Skyview exactly the way it is, improving every year like we have, but I’ve finally come to the conclusion that if we really want the best high school in the state, we have an opportunity right now that we’ve never had before.”

Jones said the biggest hang up for him was how unfair it would be to close Skyview and transfer everyone to SoHi.

“As soon as I heard talk that they’re actually willing to shut down both schools and create one new school, then I’m going ‘Wow, OK,’ we can finally have the best high school in the state of Alaska on the Peninsula.”

Several people discussed the prospect of a new school with new colors, a new mascot and a combination of students who could have a new high school identity.

Pegge Erkeneff, district spokesperson, said a new school, with a new identity, was not necessarily what the district would decide. Administrators from each school, who have been meeting to discuss restructuring Soldotna’s schools, met Tuesday and Erkeneff said they decided a task force would need to be formed to determine how the proposed high school would look.

“The area where there is mixed feedback is around the school culture, what’s going to be the name of the school, what’s going to be the mascot ... the colors?” Erkeneff said. “Those are decisions a task force would need to make that we don’t have answers for that.”

Erkeneff said the proposed new high school would be different structurally as it would have different grades than the current high schools have, the color or mascots could still be the same.

“What will be new is that it won’t look like one of the high schools,” she said. “SoHi won’t look like SoHi, Skyview won’t look like Skyview. They’re coming together and making a new 10-12 school.”

Mike Gallagher, parent of a sophomore at Skyview, said he was concerned that a population boom was on the way for the Peninsula and if Soldotna closed Skyview a single high school would not be enough to handle the growth.

Gallagher also said he was concerned that Skyview’s athletes would not be treated equitably when they were transferred over to the Soldotna High School building.

“I like the coaches I got here, I respect them, I’m not saying anything bad against the SoHi coaches but, when these kids start going over there and they’re coming out as sophomores, juniors, there is going to be ... if the Soldotna coaches are still running the program over there the Soldotna guys that they’ve been working with over there, they’re going to get priority,” Gallagher said.

Several people echoed Gallagher’s sentiments saying they were worried about sports and how Skyview’s athletes would be treated at a new high school, or if they would be allowed to participate at all.

After the meeting, Gallagher said he had experienced discrimination from coaches when he transferred from a high school in Homer to Soldotna but would be less concerned if the coaching staff between the two schools were combined.

Erkeneff said community members could visit the school district’s website to leave their comments until Feb. 22. The school board will hold a work session on March 4 to discuss the issue further.

After the meeting, Neill said the thought the conversation had been constructive, but was far from over.

“Everybody has a hard time with change and staff is worried about where they’re going to fit into the picture and the same with me, I don’t know where I’m going to be,” he said. “But we have to focus on what’s best for the kids and the community and I just keep reminding them, where’s our focus?”


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Rashah McChesney can be reached at

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spwright 02/13/13 - 09:34 am
This could Never Happen to Us

The School Dist Administration discussed the Closing of Nikiski Ele. School for 3 years then Boom ! They Closed the School & moved everyone to North Star Ele. School.

All the while the Students, Teachers & Employees at Nikiski Ele thought We are Too Important ! They would Never Close Our School. Surprize Surprize You no longer have a Job at Nikiski Ele & only a few Employees will be transferred to North Star Ele.

Yes these Realignment Solutions means Losing Jobs.
Teachers, Custodians & Secretaries & Principals will be terminated or forced to transfer to another School.

These are sincerely Serious Decisions that have to be made.
It's not just the major task of Moving a School it also means
the Loss of Jobs. It will take months for Employees to "Bump the System" with their Seniority then finally transfer to another School. Very Stressful situation.


marbles35 02/13/13 - 02:12 pm
I certainly hope that

I certainly hope that concerns about "athletes and how they are treated" is not a major consideration in this process. I would rather concentrate on providing our young people with a well rounded,diversified education. Lets not forget the AP classes, music/art programs and VO-TECH programs. Lets get these kids ready for college (if they choose to attend)---or ready for LIFE. (Dont get me wrong-I think sports play a huge role in a kids life.) This is a very important decision that needs to be made-I dont envy the people responsible for making it!

Save Skyview
Save Skyview 02/13/13 - 03:43 pm
Athletics ARE Important

At the Alaska Statewide Special Education Conference at the beginning of the month in Anchorage, a keynote speaker talked about studies that show that the most important things that keep kids in school and make them look forward to their day is socializing with their peers and participating in athletics. Many of the kids who come to Skyview have done so to be assured they can participate in sports because Skyview does not cut interested players. It is critical to the emotional well-being of students to be able to participate in athletics, and many of these Skyview athletes may not make the "cut" in the new combined school.

At this point in time when everyone in Alaska should be most concerned about the astronomical drop-out rate of high school students in our state as compared to the rest of the nation, we should be doing everything we can to keep kids interested in school, provide them opportunities to interact with their peers during athletics, and keep them in a caring, supportive environment with teachers and administration that truly care about kids. For those of you who don't know, I've just described the atmosphere at Skyview. Kids choose to attend this school for a reason.

savetheheartofpurple 02/13/13 - 05:47 pm
save skyview and all that it stands for

I never understood what the conflict with Skyview high school within the community was until my child began attending this school of choice. I still don't, but there is rivalry and there is very much a distinctive prejudice within the commmunity when it comes to these schools. It is without a doubt, very sad. However, I'm sure SOHI is a school of pride where all the students are happy to attend. It should be. It's a good and strong school. But, so is Skyview. There is so much pride within the students and faculty. To make an absolute decision that if the schools combine, it is to be SOHI that fills that obligation is a question. Skyview is a beautiful and much newer school. Why is there no discussion of using this school for a new 10 through 12 high school?
There was discussion of a new school at the meeting that would let the kids start fresh with one mascot. That would be the perfect scenario, but certainly the most expensive. Building a new high school would be astronomical and ridiculous economically.
My child is active in all athletics and many other academic activities. With what I have seen, I would also be worried that my child would be left out of these activities if he/she were to have to transfer to SOHI. I have seen the prejudice and favoritism first hand. It is without doubt, ugly. I would hope that SOHI and Skyview faculty were equally mixed into the new school to elminate this more than probable issue.
Many people will be affected by this decision. There is much anticipated growth of gas and oil exploration on the peninsula. Is it not worth researching the probability that with this new development will come more population. Hence, the need for our current space we have with the two schools. What a shame to have to change to just one school only to have to split them up again in the future and begin this rivalry all over again.
And while we are on the subject, if any cuts are to be made, why are we not looking at the top heaviness of our high paid administrators/management instead of taking from the bottom of the pyramid where those dollars are actually needed for education stability. ??

spwright 02/14/13 - 09:28 am
Plan ahead & hire more Labor

2/14/13 I sincerely hope that Management will PLAN AHEAD
& HIre more Employees that will be needed for all of these School Moves. Moving a School is INTENSE PHYSICAL LABOR . Think about all of the Labor & Logistics issues involved in Moving Your Own Home. Now think about moving a entire School.
All of these Committees & Management need to consider the
Man Hours that will be necessary to move a School.The money needed to hire additional Labor should be budgeted into the Plan.

Do NOT dump all of that Physical Labor onto the already understaffed School Custodian Crews. That's when Custodians get Injuried On the Job because Management did not plan ahead & hire additional Labor. Their Work Load is doubled or tripled then Management states "We don't have the funds to hire more Labor" Tough S_ __ GetRDone.

Plan Ahead & Hire more Labor for these Moves.

SPW "Airborne"

Rashah McChesney
Rashah McChesney 03/06/13 - 04:14 pm
Comment from James Gallagher: Skyview Highschool combine climate

Based on your reporting on the Soldatna High/Skyview High combination, I thought this was the best place to post this.
I would like to direct every one's attention to the most recent post on 'Save Skyview'. Here is a link to the page

As you can see in the post titled 'Issue: Success', there's quite a few comments and it has been said by the committee (that gets to decide all this stuff), that this will be a cohesive merger between the two schools. Well isn't this a great example of the "cohesion"?

Oh, and here's the names of all of the principals involved in the committee and their email addresses so can you can email them your concerns. Please keep your messages short as they probably have busy lives.

-K-Beach Elementary School: Melissa Linton,
-Redoubt Elementary School: John Pothast
-Skyview High School: Randy Neill
-River City Academy: Dawn Edwards-Smith
-Soldotna Elementary School: Sarge Truesdell
-Soldotna Middle School: Sarge Truesdell
-Soldotna Montessori School: Mo Sanders
-Soldatna High School: Todd Syverson
-Sterling Elmentary School: Christine Ermold
-Tustumena Elemtentary School: Douglas Hayman
Have a great day!

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