More to consider with school reconfiguration

Meetings have been held to inform parents of the proposed changes that ten administrators in the Soldotna area have been looking at. While the changes are intended to create a more logical feeder system for the high schools, it seems the main focus has been on advanced classes, mascots and the school traditions of the two schools.

One very large item that is being over looked is the effectiveness of the middle school. The proposed plan creates a comprehensive tenth through twelfth grade program at the needless expense of the middle school students. Middle school teachers were not invited to give input during this process. The proposed plan is to split Soldotna Middle School into two separate 7-8 schools. One will be at Skyview and one will be at the current Soldotna Middle School building. In those locations there will also be a Freshman class, but they will not be considered Soldotna Middle, or Skyview Middle students, they will be “Soldotna High School” Students and will not interact and participate in events with the “middle school” students.

The current Soldotna High school building will house all tenth through twelfth graders. Soldotna High School will be spread over three campuses.

For years the district has stated its belief in comprehensive schools. A school that is large enough to allow for a variety of options for students. It is this same belief that is driving the effort to reorganize the Soldotna high schools. Soldotna Middle School currently is a comprehensive middle school with roughly 440 students. At board presentations and when disseminating information about the school to the public, Soldotna Middle School consistently stresses the options that it is able to give kids due to the size of the student body. Soldotna Middle has a robust elective program in addition to its solid foundation of core classes.

With the proposed changes to the middle school, I do not believe that we will be able to offer the same quality of education that we currently offer. As they are working on the plan, the current discussion is that a shop teacher would be at the Skyview Middle School one semester, then at Soldotna Middle School the next semester. This might flip flop with another teacher such as art. This would leave each school with a shop or art room that would only be utilized half of the year. Other electives would work similarly.

The band teacher will go between the two schools on a daily basis. They have not clarified how the band teacher, who currently offers a regular band, advanced band, choir, and drumline at one school, will be able to offer all of this at both, since he will only be able to teach five periods a day, using one period for travel time.

Also, what about the freshman that are housed in the school? Where do they go for band? Are they going to travel to SoHi? What about the freshmen that are at Skyview? Are we talking about busing these kids for classes?

The administrators have stated that both middle schools will offer identical schedules and programs. There will be no variations, because this would lead to the current problem the high schools have of parents picking one school over another. Does this really sound like the best way to operate a school?

Ignoring what a school facility has to offer because the other school does not have it. Will the shop at Skyview be dismantled so that it is no better than the shop at Soldotna Middle? What about advanced math and English classes, will they be offered if there is only a group of 10 kids that qualify for it out of the roughly 100 for each grade level?

The administrators have stated that the freshman are not middle school students and will be operating on a different schedule. That takes out the option of advanced kids joining the freshman. A theoretical schedule has not been developed yet to even figure out if this scheduling would work.

It seems the majority of the community agrees that having two high schools no longer works. If that is the problem, then solve it with those two schools. Why sabotage the middle school program? If they want freshman to be in a separate building, either move the entire current Soldotna Middle School up to Skyview, and move the freshman into Soldotna Middle’s building, or move all of the freshman up to Skyview. Either of these plans would allow us to maintain a comprehensive middle school.

I was in middle school when they were planning to open Skyview. I have taught at SoHi, Skyview, and Soldotna Middle. As a history teacher I have always taught my kids to watch for how history repeats itself. Today, we are looking at dividing one middle school into two, very much like we were looking at splitting one high school into two 25 years ago. Do we learn from history, or do we make the same mistake again at the middle school level?

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