The biggest issue that is facing the district today is declining enrollments. The SoHi and Skyview merger is a direct result this challenge. There has been discussion that this is being done for budgetary reasons, but this change is about quality of education. As school populations decrease, it is difficult to offer a good variety of courses. The concept is simple, if you only have 12 students that want to take calculus in one school there aren’t enough teachers. When you combine 2 schools and now have 21 students that want to take calculus, there is no longer a problem.
Most students have been faced with a choice between 2 classes that are only offered during the same period. If you want to take band, you might not be able to AP English. In a larger school, classes like AP English are taught several times per day. For our athletes, larger schools usually mean bigger and better teams.
In the past the only way to realize these benefits was a larger school. In the case of the SoHi and Skyview merger this is the preferable method. However as our school district is comprised of many smaller schools that are geographically separated, a larger school is often impractical if not impossible. Schools like Hope and Cooper Landing can either put children on a bus for an hour, or simply go without. Other places such as Tyonek and Seldovia are not on the road system at all.
Advancements in video conferencing, as well as other distance delivery methods, are allowing us to overcome some of these limitations. Kenai Peninsula College has been using video conferencing technology to provide courses in Soldotna and Homer that wouldn’t otherwise be successful. At the College level, a course typically needs at least 13 students to be offered, which is sometimes difficult. But when you can take 5 students in Homer and 10 in Soldotna, the class will go. I can imagine a future where students in smaller schools, or students that want to take an advanced class, participate via video conference using cubicles in the library. Teachers can be dedicated to this type of teaching, or by placing the technology in a traditional classroom could simply accommodate the 4 or 5 extra students that need a class.
The way this will need to start is with training for our teachers and staff. Without the acceptance from the employees this will never happen. KPC took a long time to convince teachers to use this technology, and in some cases simply ended up recruiting faculty that were interested in this type of work. I hope that the district will continue to evaluate concepts such as this as we struggle with declining enrollments.
Finally I would like to thank Mr. Gustkey and the 8th grade students at Soldotna Middle School for taking time to talk with me. This was a great experience, and I hope to spend more time with students in the future.