Sharing students a good solution -- for now

Posted: Sunday, February 21, 2010

School district administrators this week shared plans to run a shuttle bus between Skyview and Soldotna high schools next year in an effort to allow students to take advantage of educational opportunities offered by each.

As envisioned, the plan would allow SoHi students to take upper level career and technical education courses -- advanced woods, metals and automotive courses. Skyview students would have easier access to Advanced Placement courses offered at SoHi.

Soldotna Principal Todd Syverson called it a "win-win situation," and it certainly strikes us as a very good short-term solution to a long-term issue. The student population on the Kenai Peninsula has been trending downward over the past decade, and with the decrease in numbers comes a reduction in funds. Indeed, Skyview's student body had dropped from 526 just five years ago to its present enrollment of 359 students. Soldotna's enrollment decline has been more gradual, and both schools are in the position of making difficult choices due to staff reductions.

We're glad to see that students in the central Kenai Peninsula will retain options when it comes to choosing their educational path. We believe a top-notch education is still available in the district, though in some cases, students need to be as creative and diligent in pursuing it as the district has been in finding ways to offer it, and we look forward to learning more about the proposed arrangement at a public presentation at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the assembly chambers at the borough building in Soldotna.

But that leads us to this question: Is this proposed arrangement, where two neighboring schools are able to share the best of what they offer, the shape of things to come?

District Superintendent Steve Atwater indicated that it may be.

"I see education as being much more fluid as we go forward and much less tied to a building. If we look 10 years out I don't see students being locked into a building," Atwater said.

That philosophy has the potential to work very well here on the central Peninsula, where Skyview, SoHi, Kenai Central and Nikiski are close enough in proximity for students to be shuttled, though it would appear to create even more inequity with the district's smaller, more rural schools, like Seward and Ninilchik, which don't have conveniently close neighbors. Already, the perception in many of the Peninsula's more rural schools is that there is more opportunity in central Peninisula schools. The district has done its best to remedy some of those inequities through distance-delivered classes, but there's no substitute for face time with a teacher.

A great amount of attention has been given to preserving the identity of each school. However, if maintaining pride in the Panthers, Stars, Kardinals and Bulldogs comes at the expense of quality educational opportunities, is it worth the price? Consolidation has become an ugly word on the Peninsula, but the bottom line is that a bigger pool of students leads to a more diverse and rigorous course offering. Sharing students increases the pool for the time being, but is it anything more than a Band-Aid on a festering wound?

As nice as it would be to find some money to throw at the issue, the fact of the matter is that sacrifices will need to be made for the district to make ends meet and maintain quality course offerings. Making changes to the current arrangement of our high schools no doubt will be an emotionally painful process, but the time may come when that Band-Aid may have to be ripped off.

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