District Superintendent Donna Peterson presented five options to the Kenai Peninsula school board regarding school configuration in Kenai during a work session prior to Monday’s meeting.
While there was no clear favorite to emerge from the work session or from the public comment period during the meeting, Peterson will make a recommendation and the board will take action to move the Kenai Conversation forward at its next meeting Feb. 19.
“I really would like that we resolve this at our next meeting,” said board member Bill Hatch.
“And we will,” added board member Sammy Crawford.
During the work session, Peterson presented the board with five options based on information gathered at meetings with school administrators, parent-teacher groups and site and academic policy councils in Kenai schools, a public meeting in November, oral and written public comment, a great deal of research and conversations with officials in other school districts around the country.
The options presented to the school board are:
· Option 1 Configuring Mountain View Elementary, currently a third- through fifth-grade school, as a kindergarten though fourth-grade school; moving fifth through eighth grade to Kenai Middle School and housing Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science, a district charter school, in the Sears Elementary building. Kaleidoscope, a kindergarten though fourth-grade school, which plans to add fifth grade next year, shares space at Sears, a kindergarten though second-grade school, and leases space in the Willow Street mall;
· Option 2 Keeping kindergarten, first and second grades at Sears, third, fourth and fifth grades at Mountain View, and splitting Kaleidoscope between the two campuses following the same configuration;
· Option 3 Merging Sears and Mountain View into a kindergarten through fifth-grade building and housing Kaleidoscope in the Sears building;
· Option 4 Housing Kaleidoscope in Mountain View; and
· Option 5 Combining Sears and Mountain View for kindergarten through fifth grade, moving Kenai Alternative High School to Sears, and splitting Kaleidoscope between Kenai Alternative’s current space and the school’s Willow Street location.
Option 1, which Peterson described in her memo to the board as the one the district would choose if it were starting from scratch, drew concerns from Hatch and Margaret Gilman of Kenai, who addressed the board during the public comment portion of the meeting, over putting fifth-graders in the same building as middle-schoolers.
Gilman said she taught at Kenai Junior High as it made the transition to Kenai Middle, and while extra funding and staffing was available to help with the transition, those resources have long since been cut.
“The only question I want you to think about with option 1 is, how soon do you want our kids to grow up? I think fifth grade is too young,” Gilman said.
When prompted by the board, she said option 2 was the best approach.
“I think the best thing we should do in this community is share. ... In my mind, that’s the one that does that,” Gilman said.
Board member Debbie Brown said she would feel comfortable with option 1, drawing on her experiences working with fifth-graders.
Hatch pointed out that if people in Kenai were voting, they would vote for option 2.
“That option does leave flexibility for two or three years down the road,” he said.
Sharing space has led to anxieties at Sears, though, and several board members expressed reluctance to expand those anxieties to two buildings.
Trudy Jones of Kenai, who addressed the board during the meeting, spoke in favor of option 3.
“In option 1, alarms go off as a mother. Option 2, I don’t think is beneficial to a charter school. In option 4, I don’t see the benefit to neighborhood schools,” Jones said.
School board member Sunni Hilts said she was interested in option 5, which would give the district an opportunity to open a fee-based preschool program in the Sears building, as well as allowing the Kenai Alternative program to grow.
“We have people clamoring for that option,” Peterson said of expanding the alternative high school.
Board member Liz Downing suggested transitioning to a new configuration over the course of a couple of years, perhaps by moving sixth-graders back to Mountain View and seventh- and eighth-graders to Kenai Central High School.
Dr. Nels Anderson, also a member of the board, disagreed with the notion of drawing out the process.
“If we’re going to make a change, let’s make a change that’s going to be there. I don’t want to make a change, and than make a change in another couple of years,” he said.
Peterson said she has a little more number-crunching to finish before presenting her final recommendation to the board, particularly to determine exactly how many classrooms are needed based on the projected pupil:teacher ratio and required space for things such as special education classrooms.
The school board’s Feb. 19 meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. at the Borough Building in Soldotna.
Will Morrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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