Committee Holds First SoHi/Skyview Consolidation Meeting

Tustumena Elementary principal Doug Hayman leads a discussion at Soldotna Middle School Tuesday night. (Photo: Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI)

Soldotna students in 7th through 12th grades will be moved around a bit next year. The group tasked with easing the transition for those kids had their first meeting Tuesday night. Students, parents and teachers in the area make up the members of the Soldotna School Advisory Committee.

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Right off the bat, Transitions Facilitator Doug Hayman told the committee they are serving a purely advisory role. Suggestions the 14-member group make may, or may not be approved by the school board. But Hayman, who also is the principal of Tustumena Elementary School said that won’t mean they are immune to reactions from the community.

“We are the cornerstone of this new decision. And we’re gonna get the credit and the blame.”

Under the plan, Soldotna High School and Skyview High School will combine into the SoHi building. The 9th graders will be separated out and housed in the Soldotna Middle School building, but will still have access to SoHi. Students from the River City Academy also will go there. And the 7th and 8th graders will transition into the Skyview building.

The committee will have six meetings to create a plan that could change the name of each school, the colors and the mascots; basically anything relating to culture and tradition. And that isn’t going to be easy. Emotions already were running high at the first gathering. And there was confusion about what the committee’s role actually could or should be.

One of the big questions of the night dealt with money. Members were wondering how much the KPBSD planned to spend to change colors and uniforms. At the time the school board approved the reconfiguration plan, there was no clear dollar amount thrown around. District officials still have not released any figures. Skyview parent Mike Gallagher has been a vocal opponent of the changes from the start.

“I think it’s time to start worrying about the budget. What is it going to cost to do this whole thing? What are our limitations? How can we make decisions when we don’t know what money we can spend” he asked.

Hayman said, at this point, there will likely be no new money used.  He said, for example, each building is on a re-painting schedule, so if the committee recommends a new color scheme, that would likely not happen right away.

“If it was really important to incorporate the purple color somehow in the new facility, well, those buildings get painted on a schedule. I don’t know what that schedule is, seven years, two years, five years. And if that was important, when it’s time for it to get painted, go through and paint it in a different scheme… or accent,” Hayman said.

That comment prompted Roxie Miller, who has students at SoHi and SMS, to ask this question.

“Say, if by chance, the colors change, but it’s not for five years… how is that going to unify the kids on August 19?”

Aug. 19, 2014 is the first day of school in this new normal. Hayman said he will go back to the district to ask specifics about money, but cautioned the committee that he may only get a set of “parameters” to work within. Some members were reluctant to move forward with anything at all until they knew more about what the district plans to pay for and possibilities for fundraising within the community.

Skyview student Austin Laber was frustrated by the unknowns. He is the co-creator of the Facebook page “Save Skyview” and has been involved in the reconfiguration talks since the beginning. Laber said the school board promised a situation where there would be a totally new identity.

“I feel like this might be a colossal waste of time,” he said.

Another sticking point for the group was the 9th grade house. Krista Arthur was one of a handful of members who wanted more information about how that concept was going to work. Arthur is a teacher at SMS and went through a similar reconfiguration transition when Skyview was built. She switched from SoHi to Skyview after her freshman year.

“I’m really kind of confused on how the whole middle school and the 9th grade house and the high school’s gonna look. And coming up with names… I think really important. But we need some information before mascots and colors. I mean, I’m in the schools… but I’m really, really confused,” she said.

Hayman promised to bring back the state’s definition of a 9th grade “house,” how the district has talked about implementing the concept and if the building needs to be distinct from the 10th through 12th grades in order to keep state funding. With more questions than suggestions brought up during the meeting, SMS teacher Joel Burns said everyone needs to remain positive during the process.

“We’ve jumped into the dirt and you could go back and say ‘jeez, I told you we were going to run into this, and there wasn’t going to be money, that.’ But if we go back to our circles with that attitude, we can’t recover it. It’s the first meeting. We knew it was going to be hard. We’ve got weeks ahead to work. So I just say stay positive and we’re working through it and we’re going to get it done,” he said.

The committee will meet again Sept. 24 beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Middle School library. The agenda for that night will likely focus on the 9th grade house concept.

-Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI-

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