Legislators honor outgoing school district superintendent

Posted: Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The central Kenai Peninsula's Juneau delegation surprised retiring Schools Superintendent Donna Peterson with an Alaska Legislative Honorarium during Monday's meeting of the board of education.

Recalling milestones from Peterson's 19 years with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, including the last 10 years as its superintendent, Sen. Tom Wagoner said KPBSD is "the largest district in the state of Alaska to reach (Adequate Yearly Progress) in the No Child Left Behind program. That's two years in a row," he said.

Reading from the state citation, Wagoner also mentioned that Peterson had been chosen the Alaska Schools Superintendent of the Year in 2003.

Joining Wagoner in making the presentation were state Reps. Mike Chenault and Curt Olson.

"Her number one topic is kids," Chenault said. "It always has been."

Monday's school board meeting was Peterson's last as schools superintendent.

During the board comments portion of the meeting, members individually thanked Peterson for her service and said their good byes.

"This is Donna's last meeting, and there's no angst," said Sunni Hilts. "Doesn't that say something."

Penny Vadla thanked Peterson and the legislators and said, "I appreciate how much you really care for the kids."

Bill Holt cracked a casterones egg filled with confetti over the heads of Peterson and her replacement, Steve Atwater, explaining the Mexican tradition is meant to bring good luck.

Also on the meeting agenda, the board approved a three-year contract for new superintendent Atwater.

Under terms of the contract, Atwater is to be paid a salary of $125,000 in the first year of the contract, $128,125 the second year and $131,238 the third year. Additionally he is to receive an annual $4,000 in recognition of his advanced degree.

The superintendent also will be provided with a four-wheel-drive vehicle and operating expenses for use in conducting district business.

Also approved by the board was the transfer of five small school buses to the Kenaitze Indian Tribe for use in their transportation program.

Assistant Schools Superintendent Dave Jones said 22 buses were purchased through the Federal Transit Administration for use during the 2006 Arctic Winter Games. After the games, the buses were given to the school district for use during student activities, but only 17 were needed.

After checking with the FTA, the district received permission to donate the extra buses to a not-for-profit agency. The only group to come forward was the Kenaitze Tribe, which planned to use them for their Head Start program, according to Jones.

Responding to questioning from the board, Jones said all schools in the district that said they could make use of a bus have one.

Requirements for participation in co-curricular activities were aligned with state rules to eliminate the confusion of operating a dual system for training rules as they pertain to tobacco, alcohol and illegal drug abuse.

Changes a year ago in the Alaska School Activities Association eligibility rules created differences with the Kenai Peninsula School Activities Association rules governing participation if a student-athlete uses tobacco, alcohol or drugs.

Handbook changes made Monday aligned both programs regarding the length of time a student is suspended from competing in sports activities after the first and subsequent violations.

During an earlier work session, board member Liz Downing said she was concerned that "a kid would not be allowed to redeem himself" if he made three "bad choices" in one season.

"It would mean he can't participate for two seasons in a sport that keeps him in school," she said.

The change requires that a student be suspended from interscholastic activities and practice for one calendar year following a third offense. Because of the calendar year stipulation, if the three offenses occurred during one season, the suspension would carry over into the start of the next season.

Dave Spence, executive secretary of KPSAA and director of planning and operations for the school district, and Todd Syverson, principal of Soldotna High School, reminded Downing that the student would have violated the tobacco, alcohol and drug policy three times.

Instead of featuring a district school during the board meeting, school board members heard a presentation by Gary Turner, director of Kenai Peninsula College, who reported that KPC had 1,890 students taking credit classes during the last school semester.

"That's up 13 percent," Turner said. "Spring was the largest semester in KPC's history."

He also said approximately 9 percent of KPBSD students attend KPC and the only factors "keeping us back" are infrastructure and the number of faculty members.

"Twenty percent of the borough seniors were in the Jump Start Program," Turner said, referring to the program that allows high school students to earn college credits prior to high school graduation.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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