Times have been tough for Alaska's schools. The new high school exit exam, tight budgets, a looming teacher shortage and competition from home schools makes this a challenging time to be in education.
To rise to such challenges, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is revising its long-range plan, and it wants help from the community.
Jan. 25 and 26, 48 people gathered in Kenai for an intensive brainstorming session on the plan. The plan will serve as a basis for changes that could touch everything from school board priorities to kindergarten class size to parent newsletters.
"It was a very enlightening and productive two days, in my opinion," said Sherry Karnikis, a parent and president of the Tustumena Elementary School Site Council.
"We covered pretty much every area that needs to be updated."
Those present were administrators, teachers and parents selected by the central office and the site councils at individual schools. They represented a diverse cross-section of the peninsula's 40 schools, although bad weather hampered participation from the "across the water" schools in the borough's Native villages.
The district's mission, according to its official mission statement, is that "All KPBSD students will reach their highest personal potential."
Carrying out that mission in the real world of limited resources was a major topic of discussion.
The underlying issues were preparing students to pass the Alaska High School Graduation Qualifying Exam, preparing them to thrive in the adult world and attaining those goals without additional money, Karnikis said.
The meeting emphasized a positive approach and creativity to solve the practical dilemmas of offering more for less.
Bringing community resources, especially families, into the schools more was identified as a priority, she said.
Karnikis also cited interest in more flexibility to tailor programs to students and in a high school class on life skills and ethics.
Donna Peterson, the district superintendent, said one major theme that emerged was an emphasis on preventing problems early rather than intervening later to treat them. Smaller classes in primary grades, more staff training and a solid technology infrastructure could help.
The district brought in Jerry Covey, former Alaska commis-sioner of Education and now an educational consultant, to lead the meeting and give planning advice.
He said the group identified other priorities, too. These included encouraging grassroots lobbying of the Legislature to increase resources for Alaska's schools and assuring the public that the district's public schools are the best place for peninsula kids to learn.
Peterson said the district will send out a survey to parents of students in late February or early March, asking families to prioritize what they want the district to provide. The district has surveyed families about satisfaction before, but this will be the first time it has asked about priorities.
The next step will be regional public meetings, tentatively planned for March.
Throughout this school year, district personnel on all levels are working on the long-range plan and inviting parents, students and other community members to contribute comments and ideas.
The two-day meeting was only the beginning of the planning.
The last districtwide strategic plan was issued in 1993. It has been revised annually, but is due for a major overhaul, Peterson said.
"Now is the time to revisit it and determine where we are going," she said.
"In these times of limited resources ... we have to be very clear about what we are doing and why."
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