Kaleidoscope Charter School was given the green light to expand and explore the option of leasing extra classroom space outside Sears Elementary School in Kenai.
After hearing from a number of parents, students and administrators, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education on Monday approved the school’s plan to grow to 166 students, adding kindergarten and fourth-grade to its first-through-third curriculum.
At an earlier meeting in Seward, Kaleidoscope’s plan was rejected after the district said not enough classroom space was available in Kenai neighborhood schools to accommodate the growth.
The school district recommended holding enrollment to 136 students the number Kaleidoscope said it would have during the 2006-07 school year and providing six classrooms for the charter school at Sears Elementary.
Following the rejection in Seward, the board told Kaleidoscope officials to explore leasing classroom space outside the school, then come back to the board with a proposal.
Kaleidoscope looked at rental space in the Willow Street mall and was told it could obtain a month-to-month lease of the 2,800-square-foot space, according to Tony Lewis, a member of the school’s academic policy committee.
During a work session prior to the board meeting Monday, Lewis said, “I’m still wondering ... if we need to come to you if we’re going to an outside building.”
In a letter to school board members, Kaleidoscope Principal Jacquie Steckel said, “We have not nor will not proceed toward signing a lease until such time as we receive direction from the board.”
Following public testimony from Lewis, Trudy Jones, who identified herself as a parent of three elementary-age school children, said, “Kenai has five elementary schools. Any change in one has a ripple effect on them all.
“I would like to support the board recommendation from May 1 in Seward: keep Kaleidoscope enrollment at 136,” she said.
Gloria Walden also said the board should stick to the decision it made in May.
Walden said the board “should encourage traditional neighborhoods to grow.”
The vast majority of those testifying, however, were in favor of the Kaleidoscope expansion.
Third-grade pupil Kyla Whannell said she really likes Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Sciences and indicated she would like to remain there for fourth-grade.
Pako Whannell said she is a parent volunteer at the school and toured the proposed rental space along with the Kenai fire marshal.
“It would work for us as temporary space for the coming year,” she said.
Jeff Whannell told the board the increase in funding that comes to Kaleidoscope “from the federal level” would not be coming to the school district otherwise.
Charter schools receive a significant increase in funding if they become “separate site” facilities by having more than 150 students.
At 136 students, Kaleidoscope gets $918,000. By going over 151, it will get $1.2 million, according to Steckel.
Brian Heath told the board Kaleidoscope is the school he wishes he could have attended.
“If more of our elementary schools would be cut loose to do more interesting things, maybe we wouldn’t have the problems of kids not wanting to go on,” Heath said.
Kaleidoscope parent Steven Ramsay said he moved to Kenai one year ago from Scotland where his children attended the third highest ranked school in the country.
“We were with trepidation,” he said, and found Kaleidoscope to be very creative.
Jennie Hammond said she thinks Kaleidoscope is excellent, but added that Aurora Borealis and Montessori charter schools “believed they had the best way to teach children.
“When a charter school starts out, it needs to start slowly,” Hammond said.
Board member Nels Anderson made a motion to allow the expansion of Kaleidoscope and Debbie Brown seconded the motion. Speaking to the motion, Anderson said, “All the charter schools think they have something special.
“That something special is the attitude of the parents and teachers who believe in it,” he said.
All board members voted in favor of the Kaleidoscope expansion with the exception of Sunni Hilts. Debra Mullins and Marty Anderson were not present.
Hilts said, “At our last meeting, we said we would wait and have a discussion with the community of Kenai.
“I do not support making decisions based on urgency,” Hilts said.
She said she felt Kaleidoscope should grow and will grow, but this year the school board should be working to improve the charter school policy it just developed.
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