A community focus group met to discuss the next step in reconfiguring Soldotna area schools to accommodate seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade students after the district decided to combine Soldotna’s high schools into one 10th- through 12th-grade building.
Members discussed a new community survey, the makeup of a task force to decide how the new high school — scheduled to open in 2014 — will look, and a district-appointed transition coordinator.
Two options were presented for the middle school and freshman students.
The first would separate the group into two separate middle schools, one at the current Soldotna Middle School campus and one on the Skyview campus.
“Part of our reason on going in that direction at the time was, we believed that if we closed a building per se that the district would take a financial hit,” said John O’Brien, Director of Secondary Education & Student Activities for the district. “We have since learned ... we could put a ninth-grade house in that school, the state would consider that a ninth-grade school even though for our intents and purposes those ninth-graders would be part of a 10-12 school as far as being able to access any advanced classes or classes at the high school.”
The second option separates ninth-graders into their own “house” which would be located at the Soldotna Middle School campus, located near Soldotna High School. Middle school students would be relocated to the current Skyview High School campus.
“The ninth-grade house would have about 200 students and teachers would be hired to work specifically with that group,” O’Brien said.
During a Monday Board of Education meeting, District Superintendent Steve Atwater told board members that he hoped to have a final configuration for them during the June board meeting.
Several administrators said their school site council’s approved of the idea of a ninth-grade house.
“Our site council is definitely in favor of a ninth-grade house,” said Randy Neill, Skyview High School principal. “Students are probably 75 percent in favor ... the biggest concern with the two (middle schools) is that you are just recreating the same problem.”
Todd Syverson, Soldotna High School principal, said the site council, staff and student council supported a ninth-grade house as it would provide one campus where freshman could have access to resources while providing separate instruction.
“With the new sports complex coming in it even becomes more appealing with access to the new track and turf and activities,” Syverson said.
The group discussed the logistics of transporting ninth-grade students too and from middle schools to high school activities if the group were split into two locations.
District spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff asked for ideas on one final community survey before the district moves forward with a school configuration plan.
“If we look at the continuum of how we can best deliver K-12 education to all of our young people in this greater Soldotna ... what is the question we want to ask? What questions do we want people to respond to?” Erkeneff said.
She said a lot of people who took the survey would have an opinion that would either be formed very accurately with a lot of factual information or with several misconceptions about the whole project.
“I’m still talking to a lot of young people, especially, who really believe things that are not even close to what the reality is,” Erkeneff said.
A new transition coordinator, Doug Haymen, principal at Tustumena Elementary School, will spend the next year gathering information and working half time in both of his positions.
O’Brien said Haymen would also be heading up a task force to handle some of the more contentious issues around combining the two high schools.
“This will be the group that’s going to tackle some of those politically, potentially contentious issues. Do we keep the same name? New mascot? Identity? School colors? Those types of issues that need to be addressed for the community,” O’Brien said.
While the task force’s makeup has yet to be decided, O’Brien said community members were encouraged to apply.
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.