The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Wolfgang Kurtz
LOG Editor 

Middle school future uncertain



Seward Middle School Principal Jason Bickling, Seward High School Principal Trevan Walker,and Seward Elementary Principal David Kingsland (from left) are frequent collaborators on and off the stage. The three Seward school administrators are looking at ways to deal with a dearth of middle schools students over the next few years.

As the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s newest public school, Seward Middle School may find itself without enough students to stay open. That’s one of the possibilities discussed at a recent public meeting at the middle school which brought together Seward’s top school administrators. However, that was only one of four alternative outcomes that were presented by Seward High School Principal Trevan Walker, Seward Middle School Principal Jason Bickling and Seward Elementary Principal David Kingsland.

To take the discussion to the community at large, the administrators were encouraged to conduct the meeting by the Seward Site Based School Council. According to their handbook, site based school councils are an advisory body in the joint planning and problem solving processes for improving student learning at the local school level.

In clarifying remarks after the meeting, Principal Kingsland explained that councils differ from parent-teacher-student associations in that they are an formal part of KPBSD governance while PTSAs are independent associations that have broader, and often extra-curricular interests. The composition between the two is similar as both engage principals, teachers, parents and students. However the school councils are organized within KPBSD guidelines and also specify involvement of an at-large community member and KPBSD support staff.

At the outset of the meeting, Bickling declared that no decisions had been made to date and that one option, that of moving Seward’s Elementary School Grade 6 classes to the middle school, was merely one of several being considered. The administrators would continue to consider comments and proposals from the community and specific interested groups such as parents, students and faculty. According to further comments made by Walker, the process would narrow down to a single proposal to be finalized in March.

That evaluation and proposal will be forwarded to the KPBSD board for consideration and final approval.

As the school principals delved into specifics, Bickling worked through the presentation of the situation and proposals currently on the table for dealing with it. Although the first option, dealing with the situation within the middle school itself, allowed some benefits such as divorcing the middle school schedule from the high school schedule, it also presents some challenges to faculty and students.

For example the middle school principal would begin teaching classes, some teachers would have to conduct classes outside of their classification and classes could be combined, be longer and be composed by ability rather than grade level. There would be no stand-alone elective courses – these would have to be embedded in the core curriculum. Furthermore, participation in intramural and extra-curricular sports would be significantly affected.

Bickling stated that he had worked at schools where many of these alternatives were in play and that the resulting curriculum was effective. However the associated limitations might not be aligned with the desires of parents and the local community given the possibility of a more comprehensive educational offering.

The choices beyond leaving the middle school to deal with its issues independently ranged from the aforementioned relocation of the elementary school’s sixth grade to relocating the high school ninth grade to the middle school to moving both seventh and eighth grades to the elementary school and shuttering the middle school.

The latter had the downside of the loss of staffing related to operating the separate school as well as the loss of $410,000 in funding to Seward schools. Because of the influx of students and the loss of staffing, at the elementary school pupil to teacher numbers would increase. Student to administrator numbers would also increase as the elementary school would gain a half time assistant principal in place of the full time middle school principal.

Time and space would be in short supply as the elementary school already has a tight schedule with gym, library and music classes give its current enrollment across eight grades including kindergarten and pre-school. However, middle school sports participation would increase as sixth graders could also be included but that participation would be at the expense of fourth and fifth grade intramural activities.

The option of moving the ninth grade from the high school to the middle school forecast some problematic outcomes including dropping the high school below thresholds for the range of electives it presently offers as well as resulting in the loss of the athletic director, another classified position and over two full time teachers. By way of illustration, if this change were effected immediately Seward High School’s enrollment would drop from 182 to 136.

The middle school would pick up two full time teaching positions which would stabilize student core curricular opportunities but ninth graders would still have to travel to the high school for sports and the middle school would have to contend with two sets of eligibility rules under the bodies which govern activities, KPSAA and ASAA.

The remaining scenario described moving the sixth grade from the elementary school to the middle school. This would result in a paper loss of either music or library or P.E., which are designated special classes. However, the additional classroom space at the elementary school would alleviate scheduling concerns for some special classes should resources be found to replace the lost of half of a special class

Full time positions would follow the students from the elementary school to the middle school and the resulting ratio of students to secretary, nurse and administrator positions at the elementary school would improve. Some middle school teachers would be required to be more flexible in their teaching assignments which might require teaching outside of their preferred subject material.

Sports participation would increase such that all sports typically available could be offered and the middle school schedule would no longer be linked with the high school schedule.

Given the current consideration of alternatives, the middle school’s specific direction is undetermined, However, according to Walker, even maintaining the status quo would only be a bridge to a decision to be made later when unknowns related to funding and demographics become clearer. A delay in choosing a specific direction will also allow more consideration of community input. However, he said that even a decision for an interim status quo would likely be back stopped with a plan to move toward a specific solution down the line. He expects this decision or decisions to be proposed, evaluated and approved by April.


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