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Education topics up for debate

State board meets in Soldotna, hears from local educators

Posted: June 6, 2013 - 8:56pm  |  Updated: June 7, 2013 - 8:13am

The sunshine streamed through the windows of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Chambers Thursday morning as the Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development met in Soldotna.

The importance of vitamin D, often referred to as the sunshine vitamin, was not lost on Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, who gave public comment to the board supporting House Bill 90, which establishes a temporary program to test newborns in Alaska for baseline vitamin D levels.

Seaton referenced a 20-year study from Australia which showed a link in lack of vitamin D during pregnancy to severe to moderate language impairment.

Seaton said that the link between the two affected Alaskans.

“Severe to moderate language impairments is our second greatest disability in the state,” he said.

Seaton said he believed the issue was important to keep Alaskan kids healthy.

“If we want to keep our kids healthy, and we want to keep them in school, that’s what we’ve got to do,” he said. “It is extremely important. Kids don’t learn unless they are in school.”

Other public comment focused on amendments to regulations that implement the accountability components of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver which allows the state to be exempt from certain portions of the widely-criticized No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Steve Atwater explained how the school accountability regulations affect students in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School.

During his comments, Atwater said he supported the regulations but had some reservations with how growth proficiency index was calculated as well as the use of Workkeys exams as the required measurement for high school students.

“While the intent of Workkeys is good, the exam has not gained traction with the private workplace in the intended way and because of this does not have as much meaning with our students as intended,” he said. “I know our students do not take the exam as seriously as they do with the exit exam, for example. The Alaska Performance Scholarship has helped raise the bar on the Workkeys, that is positive,” he said. “But I don’t feel it has gained the traction again as much as it should to be a calculation for whether or not my high schools are going to receive a three or four star rating.”

The waiver was approved by the United States Department of Education in May and the new accountability system should be in place by August.

The waiver address three major areas: educator evaluation and teacher effectiveness; standards and assessment; and school accountability.

Board director Dr. Susan McCauley explained the New Alaska Accountability System, as approved in the ESEA Waiver, would use an Alaska School Performance Index with a one to five star rating and make annual measurable objective targets more school specific.

“These are very weighty regulations,” she said. “The goal is to reduce the number of non-proficient students over six years.”

Atwater and KPBSD Assistant Superintendent Sean Dusek told state board members that the district evaluates teachers contracted with its 42 schools using a method based on two main focus areas, student learning and leadership.

“This process starts the day after someone gets their contract,” Dusek said.

Evaluation of teachers is a consistent assessment that takes place throughout the school year, between teachers, administrators and observation groups, he said.

“It is a collaborative effort,” Dusek said, “in partnership with the teachers.”

Another topic that highlighted the school district was a presentation by Richard Bartolowits, with KPBSD.

Bartolowits said distance delivery began in the KPBSD with larger schools delivering instruction to smaller schools. The program permits students from remote schools to have access to varied classes offered in the district through Polycom, Skype and E live programs.

Currently, Bartolowits said classes offered include a full range of language arts and science classes, three science and three foreign language classes.

“We accommodate students’ needs,” he said.

Bartolowits said during the 2012-2013 school year, 765 students were enrolled in the distance delivery classes, with 235 of those students enrolled in the Connections Home-school program.

First vice chair, Esther Cox, praised the speakers from KPBSD for their work on the projects.

“It was fun listening to the development of this whole process that is going on in your district,” Cox said. “I do commend you.”

Speakers from several state programs, including Seward’s Balto School, Alaska State Policy Research Alliance, Center for Alaska Education Policy Research as well as Anchorage’s Highland Charter School and the University of Alaska Anchorage Program Endorsement, presented information to the school board during the work session.

Near the end of the session, the board approved regulations on museum services, early literacy screening and school accountability.

“(School accountability) is a big change,” state board member Sue Hull said.

 

Sara J. Hardan can be reached at sara.hardan@peninsulaclarion.com.

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