Parent pitches for P.E. class changes

Posted: Monday, April 01, 2002

One motivated mom is trying to whip her school's physical education program back into shape.

Velvet Heffner of Sterling plans to bring a petition to the school board tonight urging that a full-time, certified P.E. teacher position be restored at Sterling Elementary School.

The problems, she said, are that the school now offers too little gym time and only has a half-time instructor, who lacks professional P.E. training, trying to handle the program.

The school had a great teacher before, but that person was not tenured and was laid off due to district downsizing, Heffner said.

"I hear people complain all the time, and I say why not do something about it," she said.

Heffner got involved after her child transferred to the school, and she went in to watch the class.

"It was pretty much a zoo and no structure," she said.

She complained to the school principal and to the Kenai Penin-sula Borough School District central office. When they were unable to make changes, she decided to petition the school board.

Heffner drafted a petition requesting an upgrade of the school's physical education program and put it at Sterling area businesses. She has collected 20 full pages of signatures so far with about 300 names.

The stated goals of the petition are to improve the quality of the program, improve safety, provide a positive and structured learning environment, to get an instructor willing to run an intramural program, to prepare students for the more rigorous middle school program and to have a teacher with the specialized training as demonstrated by a license endorsement to teach it.

But that is not all she has done. She also has researched resources for physical education. She found an organization called P.E. 4 LIFE, which runs an informational Web site and distributes information to enhance P.E.

According to P.E. 4 LIFE, elementary students should have 150 minutes of P.E. per week. At Sterling, they now get 30 to 60 minutes, Heffner said.

She surveyed other schools and found that 30 out of 36 have certified P.E. teachers.

"I don't think we should be second rate," she said.

Heffner also collected information about a grant program that provides funds to improve P.E. and is offering to donate time to help with an application.

Sterling Principal Paul Kubena said he wishes he could do what Heffner and the other parents are requesting, but his hands are tied.

Lack of school funding, shrinking enrollment and contracts that specify layoffs first affect nontenured teachers all limit his options.

Although he would prefer to have teachers with endorsements in all the areas they teach, the endorsements are optional, not required, and people who have them often are scarce.

"There are a lot of very talented nontenured teachers we would love to have," he said. "But that's not the point."

Kubena said he considers Heffner's crusade a noble one, but fears she will be disappointed.

"I think she is indicative of the frustration that will continue if education continues not to be funded," he said.

As budget constraints erode more and more of the district's education programs, more people will have more to complain about, he predicted.

He urged parents like Heffner to get more involved in watching the district contract talks, interacting with the school board and lobbying legislators to increase school funding.

Heffner, meanwhile, is prepared to keep pushing.

"If parents make enough noises, changes can be made," she said.

The school board meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Borough Building.

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