Despite significant improvement in the number of schools meeting the federal No Child Left Behind Act standards and even the national recognition of McNeil Canyon Elementary School, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District announced it did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards for the 2003-04 school year.
This is the second year the district overall has not met the standards.
"Overall, the district did very well," wrote Assistant Superintendent Sam Stewart in a memo to the board. "However, students with disabilities and limited English proficiency did not meet required performance levels in both language and math."
Though concerned about the implications of not meeting the AYP, board of education members expressed frustration over the standards, which require a percentage of nine subgroups to pass the math and language arts components of the state tests as well as the district as a whole.
The district has 230 students with limited English proficiency, Stewart said, due in part to the several Russian Old Believer schools. In addition, 901 students with disabilities in grades three through 10 were required to take the tests.
"Both groups, by definition, have education problems," Stewart told the board Monday at its biannual Homer meeting.
Overall, more than 6,000 students tested last year in grades three through 10 with 81 percent proficient in language arts and 73 percent proficient in math. All but eight schools on the peninsula were compliant with federal standards.
Stewart said the larger school districts faced similar problems.
"In the larger school districts, it's extremely difficult" he said. "We are doing everything in our power (to meet the standards.) We've been committed to the process from the beginning."
Because it is the second year the district did not meet federal standards, an improvement plan is being developed and will be submitted to the state education department for approval. Stewart said the district expects to complete the plan before Christmas.
Some highlights noted in the memo were: consulting with parents and staff, identifying actions that have the greatest likelihood of improving achievement, addressing professional development needs and possibly activities before and after school as well as during the summer.
If the district is unable to comply with the federal standards in coming years, penalties could be as drastic as state or federal education entities taking over the school district.
Stewart assured the board, however, that he does not believe that is likely.
"Frankly, we don't need to reconstitute our schools," he said. "That's one of the problems."
Several board members expressed concern about the public perception that the district's schools are doing poorly.
"Our district is doing an excellent job, and that's a key point," said Sammy Crawford, board vice president.
Board member Nels Anderson said the district not meeting federal standards doesn't concern him.
"I don't worry about it," he said. "Everybody in the country is going to get in trouble and eventually they are going to have to fix it."
In other news, the board presented Golden Apple awards to Tonia Parlow, Homer Middle School language arts teacher, and Bob Simcoe, Homer Middle School head custodian. Acela Carr, a Homer Middle School custodian, was not present but also received the award.
The board also recognized McNeil Canyon Elementary School for its National Blue Ribbon award.
The board passed a resolution in support of cocurricular activities in hopes of responding to the perception by some that the district is not supportive of the activities. Last year's budget process put many after-school programs on the chopping block until a substantial increase in state funding reinstated the programs.
Some members expressed concern that the resolution might send out mixed messages to the community.
If the district becomes financially strapped again, board members said, the cocurriculars could be looked at again as a place for cuts.
"I see this resolution as just a note to ourselves," said Deb Germano, board president. "It's just a flower. It doesn't do anything for us."
Terri Woodward, Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association president, read a letter to the board from the district custodial staff that expressed concern about an increase in the number of on-the-job injuries. Woodward said the district custodians continue to have more work to do and less time to do it and as a result, are getting hurt.
"Our custodians are devoted," she said. "The custodians are working too hard and too fast."
The next board of education meeting will be Oct. 18 in Soldotna.
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