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Voices of the Peninsula: Energy, emotion should be focused on building for the future

Posted: November 23, 2013 - 2:16pm

Change can be a daunting process.

Even when we know that the change will be for the better, as humans we fear and oppose it. That is a part of the human condition.

It turns out that our School District is in the process of undergoing some change. Specifically, at this moment the change involves the three secondary schools in the Soldotna area. While it is generally agreed that the changes are positive ones for the education of the students involved, there is controversy surrounding the peripheral issues involved. As a Board member, and one of 9 who will be adjudicating the issues involved, I’d like to let the community know a few things as I see them.

Once the big question (whether to combine the high schools) was made, the “side” questions of what the details would look like took center stage. As you know, the district established a working group to oversee the definition of the question, as well as to provide recommendations to the board regarding school names, colors, and mascots, along with issues related to school climate and the physical aspects of the moves themselves. That committee has now finished its work, and has provided the board with a recommendation. Now it’s our turn.

As a result of the press coverage and the conversations in the community, we as board members have received a large number of emails and other communications which express the opinions of the authors on these subjects. Make no mistake … we appreciate them all. I don’t know if the people who sent them expected a response of some sort, but I have not responded directly to any of them. My thought was that the process would take its course and then these conversations would be fully held, with all the information available, in due time. There are, however, some recurring themes in many of the messages I’ve seen which I’d like to comment on.

The first concern that is often expressed relates to cost: How much money will this arrangement cost the District and, specifically, how much will changing the mascot/colors/name take out of the classroom financial allocations. There has been no attempt to establish a dollar amount available for this effort, nor do I think there should be. This process is going to be divisive and destructive enough without having either side of the conversation being able to use District cost estimates as a hammer to silence the dissent. A full and free exchange of ideas and solutions is critical here. These changes in configuration and site will cost money, and we will fund the changes. The expenditure will not, however, be anywhere near the numbers being used in many of the emails and letters we have received. At this time the extent of those changes is unknown, but the expense is expected to be minimal.

The idea that “the Board shouldn’t even listen to the other side” in favor of adopting the writer’s point of view is offensive to me. I have read many times that we should simply ignore the people who think differently as they don’t have the high ground or “will be gone in a couple of years”. That is simply no way to resolve a difference of opinion or perspective. We all need to respect the fact that our actions are having a profound impact on other people and we should be aware of what those impacts are … and the potential long term “collateral” damage that simple words can cause.

The other issue I have encountered is that there is some sort of intent, or agenda involved here at the Board or Administrative level. That is simply, and absolutely, not true. I do, however, understand that the people associated with Soldotna High School as well as the alumni of SOHI do have an opinion. I respect that. I also respect that the people who have called Skyview “their” school for the past twenty years also have an opinion. Both opinions are valid and deserve to be treated with respect. The point is that I will weigh them both on the way to making a decision … and value them equally in the conversation.

My point here is that I know this is an emotional issue for the people who are directly “in” it. I get that. However, on a larger scale, we all need to be cognizant of the long term damage that this controversy can cause for the city of Soldotna and its environs. Between now and the School Board meeting in December, as well as at the meeting itself, I would encourage everyone involved to remember that you are dealing with your neighbors, and in some cases your friends. I believe it is one of those moments where we, as citizens of a community, can step up and demonstrate our ability to overcome obstacles and differences in favor of the larger good. Let’s focus our anger, our energy, and our enthusiasm on building something better … as opposed to attempting to undermine or weaken one another. In the larger picture, we will all be better off for having done so.

Joe Arness, of Nikiski, serves as the president of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education.

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Oracle
8
Points
Oracle 11/25/13 - 04:20 pm
1
1
Intent and collusion at School Board level

If there is intent or collusion of Kenai Peninsula School Board then it would be illegal, so of course Mr Arness is professing his innocense. Mr Arness has been intent from the beginning to change SoHi! Why? He has been closed to any suggestion accepting the status quo. If that is not intent then what is?
There seems to be some collusion on the part of the Kenai Peninsula School Board because members of the faculty and staff of SoHi have been ordered to "Stay out of it!" By who?

Norseman
2921
Points
Norseman 11/25/13 - 06:30 pm
1
1
thank you Mr Arness

Thank you Mr Arness. I for one am in complete agreement with you and appreciate the hard work that our great school board does.

SodotnaTaxpayer
7
Points
SodotnaTaxpayer 11/26/13 - 09:12 am
1
1
Truth

Norseman- are you really in complete agreement with Mr. Arness? Hmm, so are yo willing to pick up the tab of the unnecessary name change then? How much will it be? Well it depends who you ask. Ask Mr. Atwater and he says it won't cost a thing! (and you can keep your doctor, too) Some school board members will tell you it IS going to cost money, but they are expecting the community to pay for the changes, that includes you Norseman. Some on the board are a little more honest, and say they KNOW it will cost money, but they can't tell you how much. Mr. Arness says that haven't done any studies about the cost, but trust him, it will be fine.I can't believe you are ignorant or gullible enough to believe this won't be costly. Accountants who have analyzed some of the costs say that the figure could be as small as $150,000 (enough to keep a teacher on, when so many are losing their jobs next year) all the way to half a million. I guess yo agree with Mr. Arness so much that you would rather have an un-needed name change than keep a teacher teaching. Interesting.
Let's change course from costs. How about why even have a name change? Skyview is keeping their NAME, MASCOT and COLORS. They are just shifting from a high school to a middle school. Then when the numbers get big enough, which we all know they will do, it will be a simple change from middle school back to a high school. How do we know this will happen again? Well every elementary school on the peninsula is becoming overcrowded to the point there is discussion of building a new elementary. Where do you suppose those kids are going to go to high school? Are they just going to disappear? Not likely since we are also in the beginning of another oil influx in our area, which will increase all class sizes even farther. So Skyview keeps all it's identity, but SoHi isn't offered the same respect. You have to at this point question why. Are kids today so fragile that they can't handle going to a school with a different name? If your child is counted in that group, you have a lot more problems. If your little bundle of Id feels like a "casualty" or "collateral damage" because he has to become a Soldotna Star, then maybe you need some help with your parenting.
The problem people in the community are having with the name change isn't because our kids will no longer go to Soldotna High, it's because it is an unnecessary change. I feel sad for the Skyview kids, but do we want to teach our children that when they are sad they should make other people sad? That's what is happening. Skyview loses their school so it's only fair that SoHi should lose something? Is this honestly what our board thinks? If so it's time to get some adult thinkers on the board, because that kind of mindset is incredibly childish.
I have spoken to dozens of concerned citizens about this and Mr. Arness stating that those opposed to the name change are saying "don't listen to the other side" is ludicrous. That is never, not one time been the sentiment and I think Arness is simply trying to belittle those opposed to his view.

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