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Fireweed caught in Catch-22

School denied extra space; Port Graham reconfigured

Posted: Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The school board accepted the district administration’s recommendation regarding housing for Fireweed Academy on Monday, leaving the Homer charter school in a conundrum.

“We’ve been in a Catch-22,” said Fireweed Academy lead teacher Kiki Abrahamson during a worksession with the board prior to Monday’s meeting. “We can’t grow unless we have space, and we can’t have space unless we grow.”

During Monday’s meeting, the school board voted 6-2 to accept the district administration’s recommendation that Fireweed be given four classrooms at West Homer Elementary School, and that it’s enrollment be increased to 90 students.

Debbie Brown and Lynn Hohl voted against accepting the administration’s recommendation; Liz Downing, Dr. Nels Anderson, Sunni Hilts, Bill Hatch, Debra Mullins and Sammy Crawford voted for it. Marty Anderson was not present.

Fireweed currently has 62 students enrolled in grades three through eightand is housed in four classrooms at West Homer. The school had requested from the district more space in West Homer to add kindergarten, first and second grade, and two classrooms at Homer Middle School to add grades nine to 12.

Eventually, Abrahamson said, Fireweed would like to find its own space. To do that, the school’s enrollment needs to be 150 students — at which point, it would be eligible for additional funding from the state. At its current enrollment level, the only viable option for the school is to be housed within a district building.

After listening to public testimony during the board meeting both for and against Fireweed’s proposal, board members spoke overwhelmingly in favor of seeing Fireweed Academy continue to grow, and the quality of the education at the school was not questioned. Board members were critical of the administration’s recommendation as it pertained to setting pupil:teacher ratios for a charter school, but were willing to accept its appraisal of available space.

“All we’re talking about is housing here. I would listen to any additional proposals that made reasonable sense,” Dr. Anderson said.

Also on Monday, the board approved a recommendation to reconfigure the Port Graham School to a kindergarten through 12th grade school, from a kindergarten through 10th grade facility.

The district currently has a boarding program for juniors and seniors from Port Graham to finish their high school education in another community. During a worksession prior to the meeting, the board heard from Mike Sellers, Port Graham principal, and Norma Holmgaard, the district’s director of federal programs and small schools. Both said after two meetings with the village council, parents in the Port Graham community were open to the idea of keeping their children at home for their last two years of high school.

Holmgaard also said most students in the boarding program struggled, and that it has been difficult for the district to find host families.

Hilts said she had recently been to Port Graham, and the community was excited about the possible reconfiguration.

“When they thought about having graduation in their community, they were thrilled,” she said.

During the meeting, two students spoke against the reconfiguration, citing the feeling of isolation of the small village on the south side of Kachemak Bay, the need to develop social skills in a larger community where not everyone is related, and the lack of in-depth instruction offered in distance-delivered courses.

Hilts said she sees changes in Port Graham, though, and that she expects the community to demand more from the district.

Will Morrow can be reached at will.morrow@peninsulaclarion.com.



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