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Peninsula Optional changes name

Posted: Wednesday, December 03, 2008

If you call Peninsula Optional High School, don't be confused when the receptionist answers, "River City Academy."

The high school, which focuses on project-based learning and self-structured activities, is going by a new name.

At Monday's Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education meeting, members voted 6-1 to approve a name change to River City Academy.

The issue was first brought before the board at its Nov. 3 meeting. Gregg Wilbanks, the school's principal, said the concerns over the name go back to the school's beginnings in the fall of 2007.

"It kind of built and gained momentum. Different people would bring forth this issue," he said.

Wilbanks explained that while the school was being established, the focus was on the development of a curriculum, standards and assessments, not the school's name.

"At the 11th hour we said, 'What's the name of this school?'" Wilbanks said. "We didn't have a lot of buy in from other stakeholders, we didn't even have stakeholders then."

Complaints over the name began shortly after the school's opening. Mary Broderick, who has one student in the academy now as a junior and another that attended for part of a year, said she and other parents often had to clear misconceptions about the school whenever they told someone their child went there.

"What people's general opinion is that it's the Soldotna version of Kenai Alternative High," Broderick said.

She said there was a common misconception that the school also was optional in its policies on attendance or need to meet standards.

"It's not an option as to whether they have to work, it's not an option if they have to attend," she said.

Broderick recalled that her youngest, who is now a junior at the academy, skipped after lunch one day not long after he started going there.

"I got a call from the principal saying that (my son) wasn't welcome there anymore if he didn't attend the way they're supposed," she said, recalling the incident.

Parents, teachers and students collaborated to submit new names. Wilbanks said a voting process was used to narrow down the choice, and River City Academy came out on top.

Broderick, along with a few other parents, then brought the suggestion before the school board in November.

Broderick admits the new name wasn't her first pick, but said she is happy with it.

"It wasn't one of my favorites. It sounds a little prep schooly to me, but I think it's a good name. Soldotna is on the river, and it is the river city."

School board member Penny Vadla, of Soldotna, said she wanted more time to research the academy and the selection of the name.

"I support what Gregg Wilbanks is doing," Vadla said Tuesday morning. "I think kids need options and variety, I just didn't know if the name change was appropriate and wanted more time to research."

Vadla was concerned specifically about the word academy, and whether it applied to the school as an institution. She said she anticipated only discussing the issue at the board meeting, not taking a vote, and had wished for more time to look into it.

Nonetheless, she said she supports the decision to approve the name change.

Wilbanks said it's questionable as to whether the building will get a new sign out front this year. The school is not only changing its name, but soon enough its location, as well. Next year the academy will move into Skyview High School, so Wilbanks doesn't want to spend too much money on something that can't be used in a year.

"I'm kind of cheap when it comes to spending school funds," he said.

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com.



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