Peninsula schools capture attention of federal official

Posted: Sunday, May 16, 2004

A federal education official left a clear message during her recent visit to the Kenai Peninsula: Good things are happening in public schools here.

It's a message that should encourage the entire community.

Despite years of budget cuts, despite declining enrollments, despite the strictures of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, peninsula schools are succeeding, said Donna Foxley, who serves as Education Secretary Rod Paige's regional representative for Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

There's no denying that the school district faces some unique challenges as it delivers education to approximately 9,500 students in 43 schools spread across an area the size of West Virginia. Four of the schools are accessible only by plane or boat. Others are miles off paved highways. Some of the schools are urban in nature, serving 500-plus students. Others are distinctly rural, serving just handfuls of students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Different community cultures pose other challenges. In some of the village schools, English is not the primary language and school attendance is not the cultural norm. Some of the communities are struggling to survive. At many of the smaller schools, employee turnover is a big problem.

Add to those challenges the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which, among other things, sets tough accountability standards for students, teachers and administrators.

It would be easy to say it just can't be done and kick and scream and whine from Soldotna to Juneau to Washington, D. C., and back.

Instead of trying to justify why the federal legislation can't work here, however, Foxley saw a school district trying to find solutions to the problems it faces.

She praised administrators, teachers, students and the community at large for their can-do attitude. She saw a district committed to doing what's best for kids.

Just as it's human nature to mostly resist change the No Child Left Behind Act for example it's also human nature to focus on the negative say, increasing costs and decreasing enrollment. Foxley's recent visit provides an opportunity to focus on the many good things happening in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

With the end of the school year quickly approaching, it's time to give all those involved in the operation of the school district a round of applause and an A+ for their efforts. For most peninsula residents, it should come as no surprise that the cooperation and positive attitude of those within the school district have captured the attention of a federal official. The successes of peninsula students and the achievements of peninsula teachers and administrators are well documented.

It would be more surprising if the district did not become a model for others to follow as it finds ways to meet the challenges presented by the No Child Left Behind Act. Nevertheless, it's nice to be noticed. Good things are happening here.

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