Board hears Seward worries

Enrollment numbers pose challenges for east Peninsula

During the once-a-year Kenai Peninsula Board of Education meeting at Seward High School, east Kenai Peninsula residents had a chance to voice their opinions on issues ranging from dwindling population at the area’s middle school, to district staffing changes.


District Superintendent Steve Atwater compared Seward residents voicing their opinions to wolverines which he said were pound for pound, one of the toughest animals he knew. “Pound for pound, the Seward Community is as vocal as any community in the borough.”

While central Peninsula residents have heard months of discussion about a reconfiguration of Soldotna’s schools, Seward residents have been addressing population issues of their own at the middle school level.

Mica Van Buskirk, president of the Seward Site Based Council, has travelled to board of education meetings in Soldotna to explain to the board that Seward Middle School is in a “crisis” situation due to low enrollment numbers and a corresponding reduction of certified teachers.

The majority of the site-based council members voted during the group’s March meeting to recommend moving sixth-graders into the middle school.

While several spoke in favor of the move during Monday’s meeting, Mark Fraad, a P.E. teacher at Seward Elementary School, said he thought the issue was being handled poorly.

“People have been threatened, people have been shunned. Longtime friendships have been damaged. People have been accused of not supporting the community, accused of nothing more than having a different point of view or opinion. I myself have felt this pressure,” he said.

He said the process to determine whether the community supported the move as flawed.

“I urge the board to step back, the entire process must be redone,” he said. “I propose a third party to mediate the process, a process where there is full disclosure, fairness, room and time for public comment ... a process where the visionaries of the proposal do not host, manage and manipulate ... a process where — when new information comes to bear — it is brought to light and not brushed under the rug.”

Van Buskirk said the site council had been responsive to the community and disagreed with Fraad’s negative characterization of the community discussion.

“I have not heard of any threatening going on or intimidation, of course I don’t know everything,” she said. “I think that’s a little bit blown out of proportion.”

Celeste Lemme, a parent in the district, said she has four kids — one moving into the fifth-grade — and was concerned that if the middle school continued to see declining enrollment that more electives would be lost.

“I don’t agree with that,” she said. “Kids are impressionable at that age and I’ve seen first hand what boredom can do to our kids in Seward.”

Several parents echoed her concern.

The board voted to approve further study of the issue. A decision is expected to be made about the configuration by October.

On the central Peninsula, district administration has decided to merge Skyview and Soldotna high schools one year earlier than originally planned.

Atwater said the merger of the two schools will take place in August 2014. He said he planned to have a recommendation to the board about the configuration for grades seven through nine during its June meeting.

Board members also heard public testimony about support staff in the school district.

Terri Tidwell, head custodian at Skyview High School, read a list of names of retiring support staff that represented close to 400 years of combined experience.

“Four-hundred years of support employees coming to work every day with the passion to do their job for these students and the passion to do their jobs with such dignity that no oen knows they’re around,” Tidwell said.

She said she had not seen recognition of the retiring support staff, nor did she see recognition when support staff were promoted.

“All these people have got stories, passionate stories about the students, the kids in this district,” she said. “So for staff appreciation week, here is to all of our support employees that are behind the scenes of everything that we do in this district.”

Several new administrators were hired in the school district and the board tentatively approved Nate Crabtree, a former assistant principal in Togiak, as principal of Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School, and Margaret Gilman, a former school board and borough assembly member, as principal of Nikiski North Star Elementary.

Kari Dendurent, currently the assistant principal at Houston High School, was approved as the new principal for Homer Middle School.

According to a Monday media release the district also hired:

■ Doug Waclawski as the Homer High School Principal;

■ Eric Pederson as the Paul Banks Elementary School principal;

■ Sheryl Hingley as the Sterling and Cooper Landing School regional administrator;

■ Melissa Linton as the curriculum and assessment coordinator;

■ Christine Ermold as the Director of Elementary Education and Professional Development.

Three administrative positions have yet to be filled including one at Homer High School, Susan B. English in Seldovia and a Director of Human Resources for the district.


Rashah McChesney can be reached at


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