Board approves standards for new performance-based school

Posted: Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Promising to provide an opportunity for high school kids who would not make it otherwise, funding for a new performance-based high school was approved for Soldotna, and Homer Flex will be changed to operate as a performance model, as well.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education on Monday night approved student performance standards for the new Peninsula Optional High School, which will open in the fall in two mobile classroom buildings being vacated by the school district’s Connections Home School Program on Park Avenue between the district administration building and Soldotna Elementary School.

The performance standards also will be instituted at Homer Flex.

The standards are designed for subject areas including reading, writing, mathematics, science, social environments, personal expression and community connections, career and employability skills and technology.

Initially Peninsula Optional will have space for 40 students and be served by 3 1/2 full-time equivalent staff members.

During a work session prior to Monday’s board meeting, Dawn Edwards-Smith, who will teach in the new school, said, in reading, writing and math, students are pre-tested, and can test out of individual sections.

“For instance, in math, they could test out of probability, geometry, estimation (sections),” Edwards-Smith said.

Assistant Schools Superintendent Sam Stewart said students’ class work could then be converted back to high-school credits for graduation.

Gregg Wilbanks, who will be the principal at the new school, said the students for will be selected from among those who apply. When asked if they will be gifted kids, he said, “We don’t know who applies (until they do).”

District Finance Director Melody Douglas said the Peninsula Optional High School was approved in a budget revision in 2006.

School board member Debbie Brown said she is “philosophically opposed” to the new school while the district continues to struggle with class size in other schools.

“I just want to see normal things in every school — a principal, a receptionist and librarian,” she said.

Student adviser Lydia Ames said schools today are different than they were in the past.

“The way this works, it does encourage more kids to stay in school and graduate,” Ames said.

Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey applauded the school board and administration and said, “This keeps more kids in school. The optional high school allows competency-based education.”

All board members voted in favor of the student performance standards for Peninsula Optional High School except Brown.

During a budget work session, Douglas said the budget approved for fiscal year 2008 needed to be revised to reflect funding assistance that was announced for the district in the final days of the legislative session.

“The net gain to Kenai is just under $9 million,” Douglas said.

She said about $3 million was allocated as 50 percent of the district cost factor determined by the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER), between $700,000 and $800,000 came in the form of school improvement grants and $5.2 million came for Public Employee and Teacher Retirement System (PERS-TRS) relief.

School Board President Debra Mullins said the state aid enables the school district to reinstate 60 teachers who received pink slips at the end of the school year.

“We have rehired 39 teachers with 21 jobs being posted,” Mullins said.

The budget also was adjusted to reflect increases in health care costs for district employees. The district’s contribution rate increased from $775 to $800 per month per employee for an annual amount of $9,600 and the employee contribution amounts will go up from $75 to $100 per month for an annual amount of $1,200, according to Douglas.

During her superintendent’s report, Donna Peterson said Stewart has accepted a position with Abilene Christian University and will be leaving the district this summer.

Stewart, who has been in the Kenai district for 11 years, will be an assistant professor in the College of Education and Human Services at the Texas university.

When asked if Stewart will be replaced, Peterson said the district needs two assistant superintendents and said administration will meet with the school board to outline the process.

At the beginning of the meeting, the school board presented Golden Apple Awards to Jane Stein, community volunteer, and Debbie Carroll, parent volunteer, “in appreciation for their service to the district.”

Four employees were recognized for having 30 years of service to the district including Regina Banas, Sam Peter, Jon Lillevik and Chris Normandin. Normandin was not present.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at

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