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Board of Education founds small schools committee

The Cooper Landing School is one of the district's smallest schools.
Riley Board
The Cooper Landing School is one of the district's smallest schools.

A new school board committee will bring greater attention to the issues facing the Kenai Peninsula’s smallest schools.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District voted earlier this month to establish a Small Schools Committee, an idea first proposed by Vice President Zen Kelly in response to repeated public concerns about staffing issues in small, rural schools.

According to a description of the committee’s purpose, it will, “review and make recommendations to the board regarding measures that can benefit small schools” and will improve collaboration between small communities and the district. The committee is made up of four board members, will include up to two student representatives, and will be temporary.

At a work session earlier this month, members of the board disagreed on what it means to be a small school in the first place.

The original plan, created by Kelly — who represents the southern peninsula — aligned with the definition of a small school as laid out in the district's staffing formula, which is based on school size and location. That definition extends to the schools in Moose Pass, Cooper Landing, Hope, Ninilchik, Nikolaevsk, Port Graham, Nanwalek, Seldovia, Tyonek, Kachemak-Selo, Anchor Point, Razdolna and Voznesenka.

“I think this committee should deal with the smallest of our small schools,” Kelly said during the work session. “Our staffing formula defines that properly, and that’s the ones we should concentrate on with this committee.”

Board Member Virginia Morgan — who represents the eastern peninsula — pushed back against this definition, saying several schools that don’t fall within the staffing formula definition face the challenges the committee is designed to address. Morgan argued it’s worthwhile to include mid-sized schools like Seward High and Seward Middle, which each have more than a hundred students, and Nikiski Middle/High School which has 300 kids.

“They’re not able to maintain a standard that we expect at our larger schools,” Morgan said. “Are they going to go the way of small schools, where that’s just not even possible, or is there a way to make that happen? I still feel like there’s a good argument for including them in this discussion.”

Ultimately, the board decided to keep those schools out and instead focus on the smallest schools.

Later in its meeting, the board voted unanimously to form the committee. Kelly said the committee will solely be making recommendations to the larger board, but expressed enthusiasm about its potential to generate conversation.

Board President Debbie Cary will serve as the chair of the committee, and Kelly will serve as co-chair. Morgan and board member Patti Truesdell will also be on the committee.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.
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