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Fast forward Board plans for future

Posted: Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Though Monday night's meeting was the shortest in at least a year, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education got plenty accomplished this week.

Much of the board's work focused on planning for the future, with two afternoon work sessions centered on goals for the coming year and ways to improve public input into the budgeting process.

The board fleshed out its annual goals during a daylong planning session back in June, but spent more than an hour Monday rehashing and defining those goals. The to-do list will be "marching orders" for district administration, above and beyond their daily duties, said Superintendent Donna Peterson.

Organized by topic, six of the nine goals deal with student instruction. Among them are:

Expanding learning opportunities through distance delivery.

Videoconferencing and the Internet long have been discussed as tools for expanding the list of courses students have available especially in small and rural schools in the district as enrollment declines making it harder to offer comprehensive programs. Board members and district administrators have tentatively discussed the possibilities and impediments involved in expanding the use of such technology, and the board directed the administration to spend the next year exploring the opportunities more thoroughly. On Monday, board members also amended the goal to include exploration of other alternative delivery systems, such as enhanced partnerships with existing entities, such as the Alaska Vocational Technical Institute in Seward and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration station in Seldovia.

Implement revised K-12 mathematics curriculum with intensive training and attention to learner needs.

New and updated math curricula are scheduled to be implemented this year, and the board told district administration to focus particularly on making instruction appropriate to individual students. On Monday, board members added to the goal a focus on assuring student mastery and proficiency.

Use nonfiction writing across the curriculum to improve literacy scores.

Board member Sammy Crawford has gone on record repeatedly touting research that proves nonfiction writing is one of the best indicators of future college success for students and was one of the people behind last spring's drive to consider weighting grades for Advanced Placement courses, which focus heavily on writing. The grade weighting proposal passed the board's approval in June, and the district will continue expanding the use of nonfiction writing districtwide.

Deliver instruction to all students which is appropriate to their abilities. Require learning plans for all students not reaching the district achievement targets in reading, writing and mathematics.

Last year's discussion of the Quest program for talented and gifted students gave rise to many board conversations about the importance of differentiated learning; that is, teaching students in a manner that appropriately challenges them based on their individual skills. The board told administrators they want to see more training for teachers to increase and improve such student-focused instruction this year and to help meet the needs of under-performing students.

Design and communicate four-year learning plans for all students grades nine to 12.

Assistant Superintendent Sam Stewart told board members when he was a high school counselor, all freshmen sat down with staff to map out a plan for their class selections through high school. While this continues at some schools, not all schools have the resources to do so. "It's real easy to end up in your junior year and say, 'Oh my god, I'm not going to be able to finish everything," said board member Sandy Wassilie.

Increase collaboration and professional development opportunities for staff.

In general, board members said the best way to improve instruction for students is to improve teacher training and planning. However, board members also had some specific concerns about current school atmospheres. Wassilie and Marty Anderson, for example, said they believe teachers need more help in learning how to deal with children's behavioral problems. The board amended the goal to include that the increased collaboration and professional development should be "to ensure a safe, orderly and productive environment."

Other board goals included:

Expanding the use of Edline as a parent communication tool throughout the district and provide training to assure regular updates.

The online communication method allows parents to follow their students' daily or weekly progress in classes, when it is updated regularly. At present, several schools are using the program, and the goal will allow the district to make it mandatory for all schools providing consistency across the board, improving communication and offering a way to prove compliance with state mandates.

Review programs and facilities and determine ways to focus resources and equipment to increase opportunities for students.

An admittedly broad goal, board members and district administration said this effort to improve efficiency would direct several efforts. Board President Deb Germano said efforts to find ways to allow schools to share resources or set up concurrent schedules would fit under this goal, while Chief Financial Officer Melody Douglas said the goal also covered ongoing work to streamline software and data processing systems districtwide.

Organize the cocurricular task force to study issues with recommendations to be brought to the board by Dec. 1.

Despite last spring's boroughwide vote on cocurricular funding and the Legislature's approval of additional funding for schools, the uncertainty of the future of cocurricular student activities is far from over. The district anticipates another year of entering the budget process in the red and, as usual, having to make decisions about where to make cuts. The task force is supposed to consider funding options for the programs, as well as other administrative issues such as who runs the programs, so the board can make decisions before sports schedules for the 2005-06 school year are set.

While district administration and the school board will continue to deal with annual issues, most notably the budget, these goals will drive other action in the district and likely will crop up repeatedly in the coming months.

"These become our over-the-top goals," Peterson said. "My evaluation should be based on these goals."

In other future planning Monday, the board tentatively discussed options for making the budget process more public-friendly. At present, many board members said, public input is sought after a preliminary budget is drafted and cuts are being made.

"In practical terms, the input we get now is just token," said Nels Anderson. "All they say is, 'We understand you're having a hard time, but please don't cut this.'"

Other problems also include an extremely low turnout at budget hearings and misinformation about the budgeting process.

Drawing on the plans of other large school districts in the state, board members discussed ideas ranging from increasing early public education sessions to forming community-member committees to study different sections of the budget. Administrators will bring forward a proposed plan at the next meeting for more detailed board discussion.



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