Kenai Peninsula Borough School District

Everywhere you look in trying to wrap your head around Monday's switch to eLearning in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, there are positives and there are negatives.

There's no positive to a global pandemic, of course. But we are solidly in the digital age and the online connection skills and tools being learned by teachers, students and parents are going to be useful even after regular school is back in session.

"Those skills are being developed and learned right now that will really help people. Even students who struggle a little bit with technology and would never want to be in an online school, some of what we're doing will help them at the college level,” said Sarge Truesdell, principal at Skyview Middle School in Soldotna.

Next week begins the grand experiment of eLearning in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Students will return to school from home Monday. In the meantime, teachers, administrators and staff are taking a crash course in how to deliver education without being able to physically interact with their classes.

We’re talking to teachers, administrators and families over the next few days to see how everybody’s getting ready for the big change.

Today, it’s Crista Cady, the music teacher at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai. If you think of physically interactive classes, music is near the top of the list.

“Not being able to see my kids. Not being able to get hugs every day and not being able to hear their voices, play instruments with them,” Cady said. “I’m wondering sort of how much we’ll have to really review come fall when we’ll be back in the schools I’m predicting. I’ve been calling it the last quarter.”

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Teachers, administrators and staff in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District are having to do a lot of learning this month to get ready to provide education from afar.

School is back in session Monday but students won’t physically be at school, with the need for social distancing to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Instead, teachers are figuring out how to deliver lessons through internet-based tools or through the mail for families without internet access at home.

As if that weren’t enough of a challenge to tackle, the district announced another big change this week. In a letter posted Monday, district Superintendent John O’Brien announced that he is stepping back from an active role, as he will be undergoing treatment for cancer.

Next week should bring answers to some pretty big questions for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

District Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff said they expect to hear from the Department of Education on whether they should continue school closures and if there will be waivers for mandated assessments.

“The one thing that we’ve got going for us is that, unfortunately, this is nationwide. So, we’re not here on the Kenai trying to figure this out all on our own. We have the entire state, with superintendents across the state, that are talking to the Department of Education in Alaska, and every single state is asking these same questions,” she said.

The district is using this week to prepare for delivering education remotely. Teachers are working on learning distance-delivery technology and planning how to modify lessons to be given via the internet or through the mail. The district is asking parents to complete a survey this week about their resources and needs at home to facilitate distance education.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is doing its annual roadshow, rolling out the proposed budget in a series of community meetings around the borough. Budget presentations were held in Kenai and Soldotna this week.

At a meeting Thursday at Soldotna High School, KPBSD Finance Director Liz Hays explained that the district is looking at a $2.26 million deficit next year.

“So, we ended FY19 with unassigned fund balance in the amount of $3.9 million, and so this year we’re not going to make cuts to accommodate the deficit we’re facing because that money will come out of fund balance to balance the budget for FY21,” Hays said.