Parents and students can expect a few changes at area schools as classes kick off this morning -- both in structure and attitude.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is winding up 19 construction projects at area schools this month, including roofing projects, a new office and nurse's station at Sears Elementary, a bus turnaround at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary, new classrooms at Nanwalek and an upgraded office and electrical system at Kenai Central High.
Though most of the projects were completed over the summer, district Superintendent Donna Peterson noted that a few still need finishing touches.
"There are a couple we're still working on, but nothing that is a safety or health hazard," she said. "Like all projects, they don't always end exactly when you hoped."
But while physical changes may be noticeable, Peterson said the more important change will be in communication around the district.
The district will spend the year focusing on increasing communication between schools and between educators and the community, she said.
"It's the idea that the answers to most of our problems, our continuing improvement challenges, are right in this community," she said. "All of the groups working together will discover answers."
To facilitate better communication, the district sponsored a number of in-service activities last week, including a three-day in-service for principals focusing on the Effective Schools process, she said.
"We're asking the hard questions: Why isn't a particular child meeting standards? What can we do to help them?" she said.
The district also has planned training sessions to improve communication between representative groups and the schools.
There will be a meeting for presidents, or other appointed representatives, from parent groups such as school Parent-Teacher Organizations, Parent-Teacher Associations or Parent-Teacher-Student Associations from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday in the Soldotna Elementary staff development room to discuss the new district volunteer handbook and training ideas, develop a contact list, share school news and determine future needs.
Representatives from school site councils will meet Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Soldotna Elementary staff development room for a similar meeting discussing the handbook for site councils, paperwork requirements and suggestions, the differences between parent groups and site councils and how groups can better work together.
"We're going to be having conversations about what great things are happening at the schools and how we can work together," Peterson said. "We've not done that in at least five years."
But just because the district has a few new goals doesn't mean old issues have gone away.
As the new school year starts, the district's teachers and support staff are still without new contracts, unfair labor practice complaints are hovering between the district and unions and the Kenai Peninsula Education Association has filed a lawsuit against the district.
While such issues have the potential to impact the classroom, Peterson said she still has high hopes for the year.
"It's interesting. I'm out in the community a lot, and people have the chance to talk to me. That's not what they're talking about," she said. "There's not a lot of conversation about the things that could be considered more negative. And that's to the credit of our incredibly professional staff."
Cathy Carrow, KPEA vice president and a first-grade teacher at Redoubt Elementary, agreed.
"It would be dishonest to say that this hasn't affected teachers," she said, "but for myself, I'm looking forward to focusing my energies on the smiling group of first-graders I'm going to meet on Wednesday.
"I'm confident my colleagues are looking forward with the same excitement and enthusiasm they always do."
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