Charter school to move

Posted: Friday, May 06, 2005

Students at Fireweed Academy, a Homer charter school, will finally have the luxury of running water and bathrooms as the school moves from its current modular housing and into West Homer Elementary.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough board of education heard testimony Monday about the proposed move and voted to allocate three classrooms at West Homer to the charter school.

The issue drew hostility from several West Homer teachers and parents.

Fireweed Academy lead teacher Kiki Abrahamson said some perceptions of the charter school have always been hostile since the school's inception eight years ago.

"Some teachers have the idea the charter schools are stealing their kids. Well, the students don't belong to any teacher," Abrahamson said. "This should be about educating and doing what's best for kids."

Abrahamson said she was thrilled that she will be able to open enrollment for additional students and hire another teacher.

"It breaks my heart to turn people away from the program, but we just couldn't handle more in the limited space," she said.

West Homer Elementary Principal Charlie Walsworth said the partnership brings a host of new challenges that need careful consideration and planning before the academy moves into the school in the fall.

"Now that the campaign to move Fireweed is over, we'll do the best we can. There are a lot of things to work through, and I'm not sure what my role is," Walsworth said. "I have a vision, and we'll need to be flexible."

Walsworth said some of the programs the school facilitates will be impacted by having less space.

"We'll have to tighten our belts and squeeze in a little bit. We'll still be able to have all our current programs but will shrink some of the possibilities of them, too," he said. "Fireweed will have a good experience here. We'll make it work."

Fireweed Academy will operate independently from West Homer. The possibility of sharing several pieces of curriculum, however, is not out of the question.

Abrahamson said this should not be a problem due to her belief that the schools share the philosophies of meeting standards, learning and growing.

"We'll share space, but will we operate as a self-contained school? Will we pay custodial staff? Of course. We'll take care of our share," Abrahamson said. "We don't look at this like we've won. It's just one more hurdle we've jumped on our path in becoming the school we want to be."

Wheels are in motion for making the change, which have generated new possibilities for the academy. Abrahamson said she looks forward to being able to accept more students and hiring another teacher. She foresees the school expanding into the junior high level — possibly as soon as next year.

"Some West Homer kids have already applied to the program," she said. "Some parents just feel their children would do better in an alternative learning style."

School board President Sammy Crawford said teachers and parents of West Homer students testified Monday, arguing there was not enough space to take on a charter school.

But she also said the statements that most influenced the board were academy parents who said they wanted an equal opportunity for their children. She said the law clearly states that if there is space in a school, it must take on a charter school if one exists.

Abrahamson said that since Fireweed Academy is a public school, there is no reason the academy kids should not be able to enjoy the district's services.

"Our kids should not be denied access to that building," she said.

"These buildings do not belong to any school. They are owned by the borough," Crawford said.

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