Education

District School Board Meets in Seward Monday

By Heidi Zemach for Seward City News

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education will meet in Seward High School Monday, May 6th at 7:00 p.m., and will also hold a variety of work sessions during the afternoon. The board only meets here once a year, and several items deal with local education concerns and issues, including the status of the proposed move of sixth grade to Seward Middle School.

Seward Middle School. Heidi Zemach file photo.
Seward Middle School. Heidi Zemach file photo.

Over the last six months, the Seward Schools’ three principals and Seward Site Council have been discussing the pros and cons of reconfiguring the Seward Middle School to include 6th grade. The principals held a community meeting and issued a community survey on the subject to gather public input. In March, following the survey, which showed strong support for the proposal by participants compared to other proposals, the Seward Site Council voted to recommend that the Seward Middle School be reconfigured to grades 6-8.

One site council member had abstained however, and another member, Amy Hankins, who felt pressured to vote in favor of the move, later rescinded her vote and sent the board and site-council a detailed letter explaining her concerns and stating that the entire process had been unfair. One of her concerns was that the three principals were active and voting members of the site council, and that she felt it represented a conflict of interest for principals to be advising themselves. Another concern was that some people who took the online survey, including some teachers said privately that they felt that the way the questions were phrased would reveal their identity, so they did not feel free to participate, or to answer them honestly. The dire scenarios described in the public survey were not entirely accurate, either, Hankins said. For example one scenario describing the status quo said that without an additional grade added, the middle school would be able to provide no electives to students next year, although it was later learned that the administration was, in fact planning to offer a new Lego-Robotics elective.

Principal Jason Bickling discusses moving 6th grade to Seward Middle. (Heidi Zemach photo)
Principal Jason Bickling discusses moving 6th grade to Seward Middle. (Heidi Zemach photo)

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Also, despite low student numbers, the district has awarded the middle school an additional half-time position (rather than take one away) in order to enable Principal Jason Bickling to continue acting as principal for the Moose Pass School, and allowing another teacher to teach the classes he would have had to teach with the loss of that position. Seward High School and Middle School Science teacher Carlyn Nichols will move to the middle school half time, and Connections (home school) program half time, and  the high school will replace her position with a new full-time science teacher. The high school had been lending the middle school Nichols’ services part time, said SHS Principal Trevan Walker.

The district will hold a 4:30 p.m. work session Monday to offer the Seward Principals an opportunity to review the process followed leading up to the site council vote, and to provide the board a chance to ask questions, or provide comment. The KPBSD administration is withholding its own recommendation on the proposed middle school reconfiguration until October. This will give the schools more time to plan, and would allow for more public discussion.

There also will be a work session Monday to consider revisions to the site-based council bylaws. One of the proposed revisions, made initially by Seward area schools representative Lynn Hohl was that the principals be non-voting members of the site councils. A survey of all district site councils found them to be split evenly over this revision, however. Hohl then offered new wording leaving it up to the individual councils to determine their own voting status. That change will be presented for final consideration and approval at the May 6 board meeting.

There also will be a public hearing at 6:30 on proposed Kenai Peninsula School Activities Association (KPSAA) revisions to borough competitions that affect local sports activities. They will be considered formally at the June 3 school board meeting. The new language says: Borough tournaments will be held in cross-country running, Nordic skiing and track and field. Borough Tournaments were developed for the benefit of student athletes and the schools involved. Schools with teams in these three sports shall participate in the Borough meets.

During the 7:00 pm regular meeting, both Seward high school and middle school principals will discuss “accountability” at their schools, and there will be a presentation on the new Seward School Yard Habitat program.
The public is invited to attend these meetings, and will have the opportunity to share their opinions.

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3 Comments

  1. Hello,

    As a clarification, Carlyn Nichols will only be half-time at the middle school. The other half time part of her job will be with the Connections office, during which time she will not be teaching middle school students.

    Also, while we are getting training this fall on Lego Robotics, that doesn’t mean it will be offered as a separate elective. Due to staffing under status quo we were brainstorming how to merge some electives, like art, drama, Legos, into the curriculum during core classes.

    I think that what is reported in this article as stated by Amy Hankins is not accurate and is inteded to mislead. I am a middle school teacher and I did not feel afraid to fill out the survey. The questions were straight forward and factual. All the scenarios were presented equally, without prejudice, even the most outlandish ones.

    Principal Bickling has worked tirelessly to advocate for what is BEST for STUDENTS. He has the full support of our staff. The teachers at the middle school are highly qualified and are dedicated to teaching twenty-first century skills while inspiring our students to be creative and self-reliant. My daughter is in the Elementary school now and will one day be moving up. I support this move for the students now and for my daughter in the future.

    I am not able to be at the meeting tomorrow night as I will be taking care of my daughter, but I hope that those in favor of the sixth grade moving up do attend this meeting. Even though the public was clear in the community survey, there are still those few, loud voices that are trying to forward their own agenda. The school board needs to see that the community, as so many of you have said to me in person, is in favor of moving the sixth grade up (where we have plenty of room and a great facility). Please let your voice be heard.

    Thank you,
    Naomi Wade
    Seward Middle School Math, Science & Technology Teacher
    M.S. in Geophysics, UAF

  2. I am the mother of a soon to be 8th grader and 6th grader. I have been involved in PTA and Site Base Council and agree that this article is very one sided and is trying to mislead the public. Heidi did not attend the most recent SBC meeting where she would have heard and could have fairly reported the rebuttals to these concerns. These allegations did not change anyone else’s vote. I believe that the administration is doing what’s best to ensure an enriched learning environment since the funding formula is not changing any time soon. Many of us grew up in the middle school environment of 6-8 or 6-9. We were lucky to have shop, home economics, drama, music, band, choir, and many advanced math and science courses. We have an excellent administration and teaching staff at the MS and we are fortunate that Mr. Bickling is fighting to ensure that our children have an equitable education within the KPBSD. I will be there to remind them that this process was forthright, that the majority supports the survey results, and that both SBC and PTA support the move.

    Maya Moriarty

  3. Frustrated Parent

    Tell me agaiin why we tore down the old Middle Schhol. A perfectly fine place where electives and resources could be shared. Oh yes, because Seward needs new facilities. Wait Balto School is coming to Seward, what’s going to happen then?