Peninsula educators react to changes

Posted: Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Three longtime Kenai Peninsula educators with strong ties to activities for the most part supported the Monday decision of the Alaska School Activities Association board of directors to tighten activities eligibility rules.

"It certainly looks like a good-faith effort on their part to maintain the integrity of the programs and do the best things for all the districts in the state," said Dave Spence, who is in his eighth year as the executive secretary of the Kenai Peninsula School Activities Association.

The new rules increase academic standards for participation in activities, limit students to eight consecutive semesters of eligibility after they start their freshman year, and eliminate the summer transfer rule.

Gary Matthews, the executive director of ASAA, said that about eight years ago ASAA instituted the summer transfer rule and fifth-year seniors rule. He said abuses of those rules have forced ASAA to do away with them. He said abuses of the rule have loaded teams and upset competitive balance.

"Those were unintended consequences, and they've gone far enough," Matthews said.

As for the tougher academic standards, Matthews said ASAA's academic rules have not changed substantially in 49 years. With the movement at both the state and federal levels for higher standards in education, Matthews said it was time for ASAA to follow suit.

All three of the local educators supported ASAA's decision to increase academic standards for participation in activities.

"If you can give kids a little extra motivation to keep their grades up, and require that they be accountable, that's good because education is our primary mission," said Spence, who has been involved in education and activities on the peninsula for 15 years. "On the other side of that coin, there are a few kids that have difficulty with that kind of GPA and co-curricular activities are the reasons they come to school."

Spence said the true challenge of requiring students to get C's instead of passing, or D-minus, grades is to make sure students that give their best effort and have a hard time getting C's don't miss out on activities.

"For the general population, you typically try and do what's best for the majority," Spence said. "There's always the exception, so for the minority you've got to do whatever you possibly can to help them remain eligible, too."

Steve Pautz, the KPSAA president who is in his fourth year as principal at Seward High School, said he likely would have lost a few students to the new C requirement. He said the important thing is to notify all students of the changes so they are not caught off guard when the new academic rules go into effect after the first semester of the 2005-06 school year in January 2006.

Pautz said he previously was the principal at Adak School, where the Aleutian Region School District already had standards in place just like the ones ASAA just passed. Pautz said the standards worked there very well.

Tim Delaney, in his sixth year as Kenai Central athletic director and 20th year in the school district, said even now it's rare that a Kenai student in activities doesn't meet a 2.0.

Requiring a student to take five semester units will cause some changes at Kenai Central. Delaney said many senior students are currently enrolled in four courses, a practice that has become common as staff and elective offerings at the school have been cut.

Spence and Delaney were happy with ASAA's decision to limit students' activities eligibility to eight consecutive semesters after they start their freshman year. Pautz said that he did not have enough background in fifth-year seniors playing sports in Seward to have a strong opinion.

"When you have kids 19 years old involved in the same activities as those 14 and 15 years old, there's quite a difference in the development of those two age groups," Spence said. "When those kids come back as fifth-year seniors, their primary responsibility should be finishing up what they need to do in school."

Delaney said the fifth-year senior rule was originally started for those who were very ill or in an accident and could not attend school for a long period of time.

"It got to a point where I was hearing from some other administrators that there was a question whether students were choosing not to be successful in classes so they could come back next year and play," Delaney said. "That's not the intent of athletics."

Spence supported ASAA's decision to eliminate the summer transfer rule, which allowed students one chance in their high school career to transfer from one school to another in the summer without their parents moving and still not lose any eligibility for activities. Spence said the summer transfer rule has been abused too much.

Pautz said anybody transferring into his school pretty much had to also have a parent moving to Seward, so he didn't have much experience with the rule.

Delaney is against the elimination of the summer transfer rule.

He said the elimination of the summer transfer rule does nothing to stop high-profile transfer cases where parental moves have allowed students to start a season with one school's team and transfer to another team midseason.

Delaney also said the elimination of the summer transfer rule will encourage single-sport students to transfer midsemester. For example, if a hockey, wrestling or skiing specialist just completed their season and wanted to play elsewhere next season, that student could transfer after the third quarter this year and still be eligible to play their specialty sport next season.

Finally, Delaney said there are reasons for transfer other than activities or a parental move. Every time a student transfers for one of these other reasons, the student and administrators will have to go through the waiver process to gain eligibility for activities.

"In today's day and age, there are so many alternate forms of education, I don't know that it's appropriate, as long as it doesn't impede education, to be more restrictive in telling students they must stay at a site," Delaney said.

Matthews agreed with Delaney that the elimination of the summer transfer rule would cause more waiver requests. However, Matthews sees each of those waiver requests as a great way to make sure the student is transferring due to a substantial hardship and not just because of athletics.

"Right now, with the summer transfer, no reason has to be given as long as the student's summer transfer hasn't been used previously," Matthews said.

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