The last first day of school at Skyview High School in Soldotna had a lot in common with the two dozen previous first days: students rolled in and teachers gathered to begin the year with ritual significance.
“Welcome to the first day of school,” said Beth Fowler, attendance secretary, as a grunt of teenagers entering the building and lined up for her advice during the school’s last first day. Next year the Panthers with combine with Soldotna High School’s student population in a reconfiguration scheme approved by the school board earlier this year.
She’s the first person they see for their list of first-day problems. According to Fowler the same “stressors” arise as always — where to get their schedule, where are the classrooms; and the forgotten locker combinations.
Lindsay Fagrelius teaches marine biology, anatomy and medical terminology. She has a first-day-of-school ritual like many do.
“Every year I get a new pair of shoes,” Fagrelius said — this year a pair of black wedges that she described as “power shoes” that draw respect because they make an authoritative noise when walking down the hall.
“These are my first day of school, second year of teaching shoes,” Fagrelius said. “When I retire, I’ll have like, 30 pairs of shoes.”
Down the hall, past the lines of students finding their class schedules, and among those reconnecting for the year, Skyview senior Michelle Hall stood by her open locker with senior Derrick Linthicum and her sister Amber Hall, sophomore.
“It kinda’ sucks,” Linthicum said of the plans to close the only high school he knows. “The school has been here forever.”
Amber Hall agreed and said she preferred to finish her high school career where it started, Skyview. Halfway through her four years, she has to finish at the yet-to-be-named new high school.
Six-foot-five sophomore football player Sage Hill said he thought he switch to a collective high school was a good thing.
“Not that many (students) go here,” Hill said. “Which is why they did it.”
Logan Hinz, another football player, said his only issue with the new school would be if he had to be play football as a Soldotna High School Star.
“I don’t want to play for SoHi’s mascot,” Hinz said before declaring that he’s also not willing to force Skyview’s own panther mascot on the new school either.
Farther down the hall, science teacher Tim “Doc” Nettleton checked in on a couple of brothers who are new to the school. To him, they seemed lost. Nettleton continued to wrangle other “newbies” in obvious need of direction.
“They looked like they might want to talk to someone,” he said, before checking on a couple more students. “Did you sleep a lot (during break)?”
In keeping with the history of first weeks at Skyview, there will be football games this weekend, a dance open to all classes and a cross country invitational.
Among Principal Randy Neill’s goals for the last year of his school’s operation is to make each event this year into a special one. It’s a way to celebrate their collective making of the new school, he said.
Specific efforts will be made with this year’s incoming freshman in an effort to give them some connection to the Skyview legacy.
“The challenge is to make the kids part of the new school, like they’re creating something,” Neill said. “And to make sure kids don’t fall behind during the transition. The focus needs to be on the kids.”
One of three founding faculty members remaining at Skyview, Terri Zopf-Schoessler, reported to the last first day of the year saturated in the school’s purple colors — including purple toenails and flip flops.
Her family is deeply connected to Skyline with two kids enrolled there now and one recent grad off at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Schoessler’s daughter Cat is the student body president and will graduate in the last ever class next spring.
“It’s the last year, go out with a big bang not a whimper,” Cat Schoessler said to her classmates during the first day assembly Tuesday.
Soon to lose her school, Zopf-Schoessler remembers what it was like to open it. There was so much energy in opening the school, she said.
The teachers that came to open the school were deemed the crazy ones. “We literally built it from nothing,” Zopf-Schoessler said.
One story she likes to tell to illustrate the early days of the school. Back 24 years ago, the first photography teacher ordered all the equipment for the school’s darkroom — trays, chemicals, cameras, enlargers lights, washers, paper, film — with big plans for a program. What showed up was a camera strap. He started the year with only a camera strap, she said.
With seven years of teaching at SoHi before moving to Skyview, Zopf-Schoessler expects to join the faculty in the new school, which opens on the SoHi campus, whenever those decisions are made.
Her plans for the year are to enjoy every day and every class and every student under her tutelage in English, drama or dance classes
“Just enjoy everything because everything is the last,” Zopf-Schoessler said.
Clarion reporter Rashah McChesney contributed to this story.
Reach Greg Skinner at firstname.lastname@example.org.