A large crowd gathered Monday night at the Kenai Peninsula School District Board of Education meeting at the Keni Peninsula Borough Assembly Chambers. Many in the group were wearing SoHi and Skyview gear or ready to give testimony on their thoughts and feelings about the proposed change of name for Soldotna High School and the cultural and historic issues.
In the end the school board approved the recommendations of an advisory committee to make the Stars the mascot of the ninth-grade house and the 10-12 high school, and make Panthers the mascot of the middle school. A color palette including blue, white, purple and black was approved.
The board also approved the recommendation of the advisory committee for the middle school to be called Skyview Middle School, and the ninth-grade house to be Soldotna Preparatory.
It then approved to keep the name of Soldotna High School, and not change it to Soldotna Central High School.
The reconfiguration of three Soldotna schools was approved in April by the board.
In September, the Soldotna Schools Reconfiguration Advisory Committee, a group made up of students, teachers and community members, was charged with meeting, discussing and finally making recommendations to the board about the names, colors and mascots of the new schools. Recommendations were presented by Douglas Hayman, transition facilitator of the committee, at a November board meeting.
Monday, with approval from the board, item 10g, Approval of Soldotna Schools Advisory Committee Recommendations, was one of the first items on the agenda with the crowd waiting to give comments.
Teachers, students, parents and community members were given the opportunity to speak for three minutes on the topic.
Ali Dusek, Soldotna High School Junior Class president, was the first to the microphone and read a letter from the SoHi Student Council, which had also been presented to the board.
“Over one-third of our population will be changing next year, there will be unfamiliar coaches, teachers and administration, along with new classmates,” she read. “While we will not be changing buildings, there will be significant change in our school environment and programs as well.”
The letter stated that change can be difficult, but with change can come tremendous opportunity depending on how people approach it and the students at SoHi believe the changes will bring more positive than negative.
Tammy Miller, a 1990 SoHi graduate, spoke about her opposition to changing SoHi.
“The years leading up to when Skyview opened in 1991, the students of SoHi chose the colors and the name and the mascot for Skyview,” Miller said. “We voted on it.”
She said that if anything were to be changed, it should be voted on by the students of the school.
“Changing it now has just created a bigger rift than I think anybody could have foreseen,” she said
Shelly Endsley addressed three points in her brief comment. The first was tradition of those who attended the school, including herself, her husband and their two sons. The family has had several photos taken in SoHi jerseys and have more planned as her youngest becomes what she hopes is a SoHi star.
“I have heard some people talking about Skyview’s students being collateral damage, well if you decide to change Soldotna High, you will make my youngest son, Steven, and our family tradition collateral damage,” she said.
She also addressed the issues of fairness and the cost associated with any changes.
“Why are we spending the money we don’t have?” she asked the board. “No matter how small the scoreboard is, it will cost the taxpayers, I feel any money you are considering spending on the unnecessary changes should go toward books, teachers, special needs, repairs and reconfiguration of the Seward, Soldotna Middle or ninth prep or the $1.24 million budget cut you are already looking at.”
For more than 45 minutes, those in the community voiced their support of keeping SoHi the same, some spoke on the thoughts of the Skyview students.
Austin Laber, Skyview student and member of the advisory committee, spoke about the merger.
“I would just like to recommend the school board keeps in mind that students are not machines,” he said. “You can’t run a school like a business, normally the cheapest solution is not always the best for students.”
He said Skyview students are scared for their education, graduation and for their safety. He said the first proposal was a merging of the schools, and that a lot of the students’ minds were eased that two schools were becoming one school with a committee to make recommendations.
James Gallagher also spoke up for his disagreement of the merge and read a letter that he and Laber posted on their SaveSkyview page.
“I don’t agree with the merge, but as students we have to move on,” he said. “And that’s exactly what we have been doing.”
Late into evening, the school board had a chance to share their thoughts.
Sunni Hilts said she and the other members had thoughtfully read the submitted letters and emails.
“We have been listening,” she said.
She commended the students who had the courage to speak about for their beliefs.
“We cannot go wrong with young people like this, who speak out passionately for what they believe,” she said.
Reach Sara Hardan at firstname.lastname@example.org.