Coalition wants to know if Nikiski really supports closing one school

Letter to the Editor

Posted: Friday, March 28, 2003

My name is Holly Norwood, and I'm part of a coalition of concerned parents called the Nikiski Area Student Achievement Interest Group (NASAIG). Are you aware that the school district's central office administration is under the impression that you don't care if Nikiski Elementary is shut down and the students are combined with North Star Elementary?

The coalition is interested in measuring the accuracy of this impression. Preliminary action plans are being discussed to shut down the school, but my friends and I think we have a more effective plan for education dollars. And this plan does not increase your taxes one cent.

We believe that reconfiguring the schools into kindergarten through third grade and fourth through sixth grade levels will give Nikiski students the best chance at increasing their achievement. Does this talk sound familiar? We've favorably discussed this reconfiguring plan over the past three years. Now recent research is available that indicates a concentration of grade levels as planned can translate into increased student achievement.

An alternative way to look at this is that there's no reason to believe that combining the schools will result in improved student achievement. By the way, Homer and Kenai already divide their elementary schools into younger and older primary configurations and Soldotna elementary schools will follow suit next school year.

We freely admit to being laser-beamed focused on the priority of student achievement because it is only through higher student achievement that the following outcomes are possible:

a) Our children will be competitive in future employment opportunities.

b) Our residents will desire to enroll or maintain their children in a Nikiski brick-and-mortar school instead of choosing on a charter or distance alternative.

c) Our residents will feel more compelled to support our teachers.

To us, efforts to close budget gaps by shutting down this needed school are equivalent to balancing the borough's books on the backs of Nikiski children's futures. The very minimal fiscal gains of closing the school show a lack of understanding of its relationship to what would have been the far more beneficial, long-term rewards that student achievement brings.

We also think that most Nikiski residents want these perfectly good schools with perfectly good classrooms and perfectly good little desks to remain as perfectly good schools. It's very enlightening (and extremely discouraging!) to get involved with a public awareness campaign like this. One learns of rumors that the Nikiski Recreation Center has already expressed interest in expanding into the building or that some obscure behind-the-scenes conversations are taking place regarding turning the school into a Nikiski Community Center. Isn't a better plan for the rec center to use the school building after school hours and rent the Nikiski Senior Center for $50 for a community-style event? That saves the rest of us increased taxes for upkeep.

My friends, we are notorious for our independence and inability to gel as a community. If you are in agreement with the statements above, please find and sign a petition. The time to act is now. We need your signature by April 4. If there are not sufficient signatures, then there's no need to make an argument against closing the school at the April 7 school board meeting.

You can find a petition (and position statement) at the Nikiski post office, M&M Market, the senior center, Great Northern Video, Nikiski Pre-School, Nikiski Recreation Center, or call me at 776-5593 and I'll get one to you.

Holly Norwood, Nikiski

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