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.
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member had abstained however, and another member, Amy Hankins, who felt pressured to vote in favor of the move, later rescinded her vote and sent the board and site-council a detailed letter explaining her concerns and stating that the entire process had been unfair.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.
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.