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Staff at Soldotna's reconfigured schools prepare for first day

Posted: August 16, 2014 - 7:46pm  |  Updated: August 16, 2014 - 7:59pm
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A group of Soldotna Prep teachers collaborate on Friday.   Photo by Kaylee Osowski/Peninsula Clarion
Photo by Kaylee Osowski/Peninsula Clarion
A group of Soldotna Prep teachers collaborate on Friday.

Moving can be a daunting task, especially when it involves three different schools.

With the approval of the reconfiguration of three Soldotna schools by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education in April 2013, teachers and administrators have been busy preparing classrooms for the first day of the 2014-2015 school year on Tuesday.

While many of the desks, chairs and computers stayed in each building, the move still required teachers to pack up their materials and get acquainted with a different building.

The decision to shuffle students has moved ninth-graders from Soldotna High School to Soldotna Prep, formerly Soldotna Middle School. Skyview Middle School, previously Skyview High School, will see seventh- and eighth-graders walk its halls.

 

Skyview Middle Principal Sarge Truesdell spent many hours at the school during the summer so that it will be running as smoothly as possible when the first bell rings for the beginning of the year for about 400 middle-schoolers.

One challenge with converting a high school to a middle school is the age difference required classrooms to be reconfigured in for certain subjects, like science. For example, labs set up for chemistry had to be converted to accommodate younger students.

With two intensive needs programs at the middle school, an area in Skyview needed to be renovated to properly suit those students because the high school previously didn’t have any such programs.

“Intensive needs programs — wheelchair-bound students and autistic children — need more space, need extra rooms, need all kinds of different things that normal rooms aren’t equipped with,” Truesdell said.

While some improvements had to be made, Truesdell said the campus has many great features.

“We made major upgrades in terms of the beauty of the facility, the newness of the facility the view that we have outside our windows, the library,” he said.

One downside of the move is the out-of-town location with no bike path access.

“Middle-school kids, their freedom is their bike or their ability to walk,” he said. “They can’t drive. And I know when we were in town kids just loved being able to, when school was out, walk out the doors and walk to the teen center or walk over to their buddy’s house.”

Until a bike path is constructed, middle-schoolers don’t have that freedom, he said. Students will have to ride in with parents or be bused to school.

Truesdell said he’s excited about having a commons area because the previous middle school had no such space.

“Middle-school kids like to mingle,” he said. “They like to visit with their friends. They like to be able to sit someplace and work on their homework.”

The large area will also allow for one lunch period instead of one for seventh grade and one for eighth grade, which in the past caused scheduling and administrative issues, he said.

Math teacher Tiffany Carter said the location and campus are great, and she’s also glad the middle school staff got to stay together.

Truesdell had been at Soldotna Middle for 16 years and knew everything about the building and how it ran, so this summer he spent time learning the system at Skyview — the intercom, microphones and other technical pieces.

“Everything right now is perfect,” Truesdell said. “But what I told my staff is that we probably can expect a year’s worth of crazy things happening at the most inopportune times and we’re just going to get to know the building and … fight our way through each of those things.”

 

Unlike Skyview, infrastructure modifications weren’t required to transform the former Soldotna Middle school into a ninth-grade house.

“Our big challenge was just taking everything out of the building and bringing … stuff from other buildings in along with some of the new equipment that we ordered,” said Curt Schmidt, Soldotna Prep principal.

Schmidt switched offices and titles, going from assistant principal at the former Soldotna Middle School to principal at the new Soldotna Prep.

The building is also going to house River City Academy and some district programs, which Schmidt said will be a positive challenge to make sure all entities work cohesively.

Another challenge Schmidt sees with just the ninth grade house is making sure the students don’t feel disconnected from the other high school grades, he said.

“Trying to integrate them into the high school with other opportunities is going to be a big challenge,” he said.

He said students will go to SoHi to swim once or twice a week, but details for transporting students and coordinating schedules between the schools need to be finalized.

But, he said having one grade in the building will help teachers and students to build tighter relationships.

“Only having one grade level and only 200 kids to keep track of should really help us focus on those kids who need the extra help, whether it be enrichment activities or getting them caught up if they’re struggling,” he said.

Schmidt said the teaching staff, made up of primarily former SoHi and Skyview High staffers, has been divided into teams so students will share a common core group of teachers.

Those groups collaborated on Friday outlining priorities throughout each classroom to maintain consistency in rules and procedures for students.

In those teams, teachers of different areas will work together to present themed units and engage students in cross-subject projects. They will also be able to work together to help any struggling students.

In many big high schools, Schmidt said sometimes the focus is on getting twelfth-graders graduated while the younger students don’t get as much attention.

He said if students are on-track by the end of ninth grade, their odds of graduating are higher.

“We’ll really be able to focus on instruction on what ninth-graders need to be successful down the road, not only in high school but past that,” he said.

 

SoHi Principal Todd Syverson said the school transition has been pretty easy.

He said with the schools working together in the past, the teachers were used to working together.

“That will really help make for a smooth transition for students and for staff,” he said.

However, he said the move was challenging for some like English teacher Terri Zopf-Schoessler who had been at Skyview high school for 24 years.

Zopf-Schoessler, who had 54 boxes of materials, said students were helpful during the transition.

With finals and graduation and the Funny River Horse Trail Wildfire, she said the move was chaotic, but it was exciting when she finally got her last box unpacked at SoHi.

During the last week, teachers had meetings and have been getting to know one another better. Students have also been working together this school year with fall sports underway, Syverson said.

SoHi senior and football player Austin Hatten said the rivalry between the two teams has been dropped and the players are all friends now. Senior Haley Miller said it’s the same way for the volleyball team.

“So even before the school year has started, students have an opportunity to work together and have some fun together through our athletic programs, which I believe will help with the transition,” Syverson said.

Students also were together at the middle-school level, Syverson said, making the reconfiguration a reunion of sorts.

“I’m just really excited to have everyone together again,” Miller said about reconnecting with former middle school classmates.

On Tuesday every student and staff member at the tenth-twelfth grade school will be welcomed with a new sweatshirt thanks to donations from the community.

“With the newness, we’ve got a brand-new sports complex, they’re going to have a brand-new sweatshirt … we really have the best of the best here at Soldotna High School for the kids,” he said. “It’s just going to be a lot of fun.”

The total body is bumped up from about 540 last school year to about 600 this year, Syverson said. Capacity is at 650.

He said with no ninth-graders, some teachers and programs in the building had to be shuffled around, but the school is able to offer more elective courses and intramural sports for the first time.

Also this year the media center will have extended hours as well as Saturday hours with a teacher available for students who need a place to study, take a distance education class or credit recovery.

“We feel we’re going to have a great school year, and I’m looking forward to working with a lot of new families and a lot of new students,” Syverson said. “It’s exciting for me.”

 

Kaylee Osowski can be reached at kaylee.osowski@peninsulaclarion.com.

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