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Board meeting to address cultural aspects of schools

Posted: November 28, 2013 - 6:39pm
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion  About 40 people stood at the intersection of the Sterling Highway and the Kenai Spur Highway protesting proposed changes to the name, mascot and school colors of Soldotna High School Wednesday Nov. 26, 2013 in Soldotna, Alaska. The changes before the school board came after more than a year of school configuration discussions that led the district to close Skyview High School and move those students to Soldotna High School.
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion About 40 people stood at the intersection of the Sterling Highway and the Kenai Spur Highway protesting proposed changes to the name, mascot and school colors of Soldotna High School Wednesday Nov. 26, 2013 in Soldotna, Alaska. The changes before the school board came after more than a year of school configuration discussions that led the district to close Skyview High School and move those students to Soldotna High School.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board of Education meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at the Borough Chambers in Soldotna.

One action item on the agenda is the decision of cultural and historic issues of Soldotna High, Soldotna Middle and Skyview High School that now rest solely with the board.

The name of the Soldotna High School, Soldotna Middle School and Skyview High School will be decided, along with mascots and colors.

On April 1 the board approved an amended motion to reconfigure Soldotna area high schools into one high school for grades 10- through 12, to be located at the current Soldotna High School.

In August, the board approved a motion to move the Soldotna area ninth-grade students to the existing Soldotna Middle School and the Soldotna area seventh- and eighth-grade students to the existing Skyview High School.

It was also agreed that River City Academy would move to the existing Soldotna Middle School.

In August, the administration created the Soldotna Schools Reconfiguration Advisory Committee, a fourteen-person group that reviewed the specifics of the reconfiguration and would make recommendations for the cultural and historic issues. The group, made up of staff and students from the three schools, as well as community and parent representatives, took part in four evening meetings to discuss and debate the issues this fall.

Monday’s final decision has been challenged by many in the community who do not wish to see the changes.

In October the committee received a letter from Anne McCabe, SMS librarian.

In the letter, she said she had concerns about recommendations made by the committee regarding SMS and how essentially all cultural aspects of the SMS — the school name, mascot and colors — were eliminated.

Soldotna High School students and alumni also expressed concern about the possible cultural changes proposed.

A change.org petition with more than 600 supporters was at the time of delivery was delivered to the district main office on Oct. 21. The petition urged that SoHi’s colors and mascots, which have been a part of Soldotna’s history for 33 years, remain unchanged in the reconfiguration.

Mikhail Vaissenberg, a 2001 SoHi graduate and advocate for the petition, said that SoHi needs to retain its identity.

“I’m an alumni of the school, my dad was at SoHi, we have a lot of history with our family in the area,” Vaissenberg said “Being an alumni from there I’m not fond of history being changed.”

Mike Hatton, a 1990 SoHi graduate, delivered the petition to the KPBSD office. He said he believed changing the name of SoHi was ridiculous.

“(It is) taking away the heritage from this town,” he said.

Another forum many have used to voice their concern is the social media site Facebook.

The “Save the SoHi Stars” page, which is an open group created by Scott Best, a 1990 graduate of Soldotna High, to become one voice of people who are against the proposed name and mascot change of Soldotna High School. It has more than 800 members as of Thursday.

The group has held an open meeting, formed a petition, emailed school district and board members and held a rally to gain support of their cause. A group of spirited community members, alumni and students, dressed in SoHi colors and uniforms Wednesday and held signs and waved at passers by.

Best has also led discussion at meetings. He said in an email that he was concerned about the lack of representation in the matter and started the “Save the SoHi Stars” page.

“A few months ago I started asking around about where the committee was going with their decision. When I heard that it appeared that SoHi was going to see big changes, I knew we had to have a louder voice,” he said.

Best wrote that while he was passionate about the changes, the biggest issue to him is the cost of the endeavor. He said that since the cost has not been disclosed, he is concerned what the amount will be and what the cost will be to the parents and community members as well.

“I know (KPBSD Superintendent) Atwater has said many times, it won’t cost much. Well how much is much, nobody will give those numbers to us,” he said. “We have been told it will be spread out six to eight years as things need repainted or replaced. Our question is what’s the point then?”

For Best, the concern is the cost of the changes, as well as the future impacts of the change. He believes that while the other two schools have to change names and mascots, changing SoHi’s are just because they have to change something as well. Best wondered why, but said he couldn’t ask because the was not allowed to speak at committee meeting, but he said it was finally told to them that it was to make the new students feel welcomed.

“Now I know it’s been a few years since I was in school, but if a handful of students made me change the colors and the name of my school, they probably wouldn’t feel very welcomed at all,” he wrote. “I think the school board missed the boat on this one, and is separating the community by doing so.”

He said with the potential boom that the peninsula is expected to experience, that he believes SoHi will at some point hit capacity and Skyview will probably become a high school once again.

“What will the school have lost? Nothing,” he wrote. “While SoHi, if made to change, will have lost (it’s) history and the people of this community thousands of dollars.”

A “SaveSkyview” Face Book page has also emerged and had 391 likes as of Wednesday. The page states, “We are here to assure equal representation of the schools and the community.”

Skyview students James Gallagher and Austin Laber started the page in hopes of spreading awareness to the community.

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