School board mulls safety

Posted: Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The school board on Monday got an update from the district administration on scheduled emergency action plan training sessions, the importance of which was hammered home by the events unfolding at Virginia Tech.

“It’s a sign of the times when we are having active shooter drills,” District Superintendent Donna Peterson said during her report to the board at the evening meeting.

During the afternoon worksessions, Glen Szymoniak, assistant superintendent, outlined for the board an updated version of the district emergency action plan. The plan outlines actions building administrators and staff are to take in the event of a fire or natural disaster, as well as in the event of an intruder.

Szymoniak told the board he had been working with borough Office of Emergency Management staff and members of the law enforcement and emergency response community to update and streamline the plan. Several training sessions are planned for school principals and designated staff members beginning this week; those trainees will be expected to train their fellow staff members when school starts next fall.

Also during Monday’s worksessions, Szymoniak shared with the board plans to modify the Kenai Central High School pool to accommodate a helicopter underwater egress training facility. Shell Offshore Inc. has contracted with the University of Alaska and is working with the borough administration to build the facility, which would complement programs at Kenai Peninsula College’s Mining and Petroleum Training Services facility. Modifications to the Kenai pool will include an addition to house the helicopter simulator. The simulator will be suspended from the ceiling. A motorized winch would drop the unit into the water to simulate a variety of crash scenarios.

Szymoniak said Shell Offshore would be paying rent to use the facility and would cover the cost of construction, no school programs would be displaced, and the addition would provide some extra storage space for other pool equipment, currently an issue at the Kenai pool.

The board also was apprised of a plan to house the new Peninsula Optional High School in two portable buildings across Park Avenue from the borough building, rather than in two portable units behind Soldotna Middle School. Offices for Connections, the district’s home-school program, currently are housed in the two portables. Connections will move into the lower floor of the District Media Center while most of the media center materials will be moved to the building’s upper floor or, if necessary, to unused classrooms at Tustumena Elementary School in Kasilof.

During the regular meeting, the board passed the three action items on its consent agenda without debate. However, during the public testimony portion of the meeting, the board heard from several members of the public frustrated by the decision-making process to select the principal for the consolidated Mountain View-Sears elementary school in Kenai. The district administration selected John Cook, principal at Sears, for the position. At the board’s April 2 meeting, quite a bit of public testimony was taken in support of Jim Dawson, the principal at Mountain View.

On Monday, Mike Navarre read a letter drafted by a group of concerned citizens to the board outlining concerns about a lack of public input in the selection process and the group’s belief that the school board has the authority to revisit the administration’s decision. The letter characterized the decision as frustrating and unfair and called the situation “untenable.”

Jim Montgomery, of Kenai, asked that the process of hiring a building administrator include input from site-based councils. Joyce Woodcock, also of Kenai, said the position of the citizen coalition is that misrepresentations to the public have led to a lack of faith in the administration. Roseanne Keating of the Mountain View advisory council asked that site councils be used as a resource during the selection process.

Navarre said the group recognizes that Peterson has, as superintendent, “by and large, done a good job,” but in asking for a review of the process, said the consolidation and subsequent decisions are a “fairly unique situation” at which the board needed to take another look.

School board members assured the speakers their comments were not falling on deaf ears.

“It’s encouraging to see this many people here. There’s a lot of tension; I’m hoping we can come to an accommodation,” said board member Bill Hatch.

Board member Marty Anderson said he had been keeping track of the steady stream of e-mails he has received on the topic and counted 40 in favor of one candidate and 42 in favor of the other.

“One thing I’ve learned about being on the school board, there’s a lot of hard decisions, a lot of difficult decisions,” Anderson said. “I knew this was going to be a difficult decision, but I also knew we had two good people if 82 people took the time to write a letter in support of their administrator.”

“I hope you’ll continue to work with us to make this consolidation work. We want to do what’s right for kids,” said board vice president Sammy Crawford, adding that she was looking forward to meeting with Peterson to discuss the process. “I hope we can clarify what needs to be done.”

Will Morrow can be reached at

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