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

By Wolfgang Kurtz
LOG Editor 

With numbers down, schools forge ahead


Wolfgang Kurtz | The Seward Phoenix LOG

KPBSD Superintendent Dr. Atwater gave a state of the district update to Seward Chamber of Commerce members at their regular luncheon on April 4. Accompanying him were KPBSD board member Lynn Hohl, who represents the Eastern Kenai Peninsula and Deb Bond who is Seward coordinator director for the Boys and Girls Club.

With a projected drought of teenagers passing through Seward's Middle and High schools, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and local administrators are looking to maintain and extend the area's public school system lead in scoring statewide. Seward High School's principal Trevan Walker is pursuing an progressive model of extended-hours education that will keep the high school's doors open until 5 p.m. or later to accommodate students at the margins as well as students heavily involved in co-curricular programs such as sports.

Due to projected enrollment numbers for the next year, the KPBSD's staffing formula is allowing hire of an additional full time teacher which will play into his vision of extending traditional high school. Having gained the approval of the KPBSD central office and board, as well as the teacher's union, Walker is planning the change for August. How this program can be maintained the following school year, when numbers may dictate the loss of teaching positions, is a scenario that Walker intends to deal with when the time comes.

The union contract had to be modified specifically to allow a teaching position for the non-traditional arrangement. However, Walker points out that very little about high school education remains traditional in the, well, traditional sense. With distance and online-based instruction coordinated and supervised by the new teaching staffer, he says that SHS students will have more flexibility in pursuing classes for credit according to their abilities and schedules.

According to KPBSD Superintendent Steve Atwater, the seeming chronic quandary with rollercoaster attendance numbers, will continue to factor into local and district planning. Enrollment numbers have been sliding overall Peninsula-wide for years as the demographics of the area age. However a dip in the overall slide is not expected to be permanent in the Seward area, as surges in the earlier grades move through higher grades over the course of the decade.

At a recent presentation in Seward, Atwater brought out the charts and graphs to show that, although attendance numbers in upper grades are in a slump and at an overall historic low, the district is in comparatively good shape when it comes to academics and test scores. First focusing on student enrollment and performance, he pointed out that the KPBSD, with less resources than other large school districts in the state, leads scoring among them in SBA testing and assessment.

State of Alaska standards also placed the KPBSD well above the statewide averages, with Seward Elementary highlighted among Seward schools. With seven students, Moose Pass School achieved a 100 percent score in reading and writing proficiency. And of the 43 public schools in the district, only seven were rated higher than Seward schools, which all achieved 4-star status. In the case of high school graduation rate, the district was edged out with 78 percent to Juneau's 79 percent. However, Seward High School figures in with an 87 percent graduation rate.

Despite the comparative success rate, those are numbers that both Atwater and Walker don't rest easy on. Walker intends to close that gap with his hybrid model of instruction as he closes in on a goal of being always open for students. "The next heavy lift for us, is extending the standard instructional model beyond the traditional bell schedule," he says. "The eventual goal is getting to the point where digital instruction is seamless with the physical campus and students only limitation on that end is their internet connectivity."

On Atwater's end, the concern is rather more prosaic devolving on available funds. Through some relatively painless adjustments and a little magic, the district is able to rein in spending, with projected expenditure reductions of $1.43 million for the upcoming 2015 fiscal year. According to the changes, the pupil to teacher ratio will increase to 24 students per class and a surprising reduction in utility expenses of $250,000 turns out to be based on having lower-cost natural gas newly available to Homer schools.

The most controversial cost cutting measure is the mothballing of the Skyview Pool, which would save $180,000 annually at current utility rates. Atwater says this points out the cost of these facilities and says that the decision remains challenged by advocates for keeping the pool open at the former high school. Skyview High School itself is no longer, due to those shifts in demographics that left the facility without enough students to justify that mode of operation.

The rest of the gap for the 2015 KPBSD fiscal year will be made up by spending out of fund reserves and increased appropriations from the borough and the State of Alaska. In particular, Atwater and administrators in other districts have their eye on current state legislation increasing the state's contribution to their budgets. Gov. Parnell and the legislature are proposing spending up to $100 million over the next year on Alaska public education but are not committing the funding to what is know as the Base Student Allowance.

Without this baseline increase there is effectively no commitment to continuing the funding beyond the single year budgeted. Legislators are considering making it a two-year increase rather than locking it in by raising the BSA.


Reader Comments

ravensfeather writes:

what seward high school should be looking at is jump starting their students with college programs. They should be offering college credit level English, Math, and language fundamental sciences history and other classes that they a second language, which they are required to take as core classes at the University of Alaska Anchorage or as part of the community colleges program...This would allow students to take these classes early and not have to take them when they are freshman in college.


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