Educators study academic-only school

Posted: Monday, January 12, 2004

Families on the central Kenai Peninsula may have another option for high school education as early as next fall if some Skyview High School educators get their way.

Principal John Pothast and a group of teachers from Skyview are working on a charter to establish a school within a school focused on core subjects. The charter is about halfway done, Pothast said, and is scheduled to go before the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education in February.

Pothast said the idea for an academic-only school has been around for several years, but action on the idea just started this fall.

"We have, for several years, talked about doing something different," he said, explaining that the traditional high school experience doesn't work for all students.

He said recent changes to the state's charter school laws and the plethora of budget cuts in the school district inspired the group of educators to get to work on the idea.

"The district is really in prime condition right now," he said. "We're looking for different ways of doing business, how to be efficient and provide services in a different way."

Classes at the charter school would focus exclusively on core subjects including math, science, English and history, he said. A few electives might be added if parents ask for them, but any additions to the core subjects would be designed to enhance basic education, he said.

Though the charter school likely would start out operating within Skyview High School, it would be a different brand of education, he said. And that's the point.

"We live in an advent of choice," Pothast said. "It's indicative of the fact that parents do have choices and are willing to go elsewhere if they can't get what they want."

The large home-school population on the peninsula is just one example of such choices, he said.

Pothast said he and other educators have been having informal discussions with parents about what their "ideal school" would encompass. More formal discussions are planned with parents of students at Aurora Borealis Charter School, which serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and with home-school parents around the district.

The charter school would fill a niche, Pothast said.

"We're trying to write (the charter) based on what the need is in the community," he said.

The school district already includes three charter schools: Aurora Borealis in Kenai, Soldotna Montessori and Fireweed Academy in Homer. None of those schools include high school programs, though, Pothast said.

The new school would provide an opportunity for charter school students to continue a fluid educational path and may bring in more home-school students currently opting for non-district programs, Pothast said. That could help keep students -- and money -- in the district.

In addition, Pothast said, the federal government offers a number of grants for charter school start-ups, which would help pay for the new school despite the district's budget shortfall.

"It's exciting," he said. "(The district) is entering budget time, and the conversations are bleak. They're not fun.

"This is exciting."

Pothast said the charter tentatively is scheduled to go before the school board at its Feb. 2 meeting. If approved, it would then go to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development and the Alaska State Board of Education for approval before a school could open next fall.

CREDIT:Photo by M. Scott Moon Digging out

Mike McConahy and John Anderson of Central Emergency Services work Saturday to expose a fire hydrant from a snowbank on Crest Drive in Soldotna. Local firefighters encourage the public to help them keep the hydrants accessible. "Anything they can do to keep them opened up helps," McConahy said.

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