The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is considering changing how it evaluates contact tracing in its COVID mitigation plan to allow more kids to stay in school.

The Board of Education held a work session Monday to discuss alternatives. In the board meeting Monday night, superintendent Clayton Holland said the district is trying to keep kids in school as much as possible.


Operating school programs during COVID is an uncertain endeavor in the best of circumstances. The latest wrinkle for cross country teams on the peninsula is a scramble to get to the Region III Tournament in Kodiak this weekend, with most Kenai and Soldotna runners missing out on what would have been their last meet of the year.

Several teams had planned to take the ferry Tustumena from Homer to Kodiak for the region meet, Oct. 1 and 2. But the Alaska Department of Transportation canceled all Tustumena sailings until Oct. 5, citing crew shortages. Kenai Central coach Todd Boonstra heard the news in the middle of the Borough meet last weekend in Seward.

“So we didn’t even know going into the meet that, ‘Hey, this is going to be our last race.’ So, yeah, it’s unfortunate,” Boonstra said. “They’ve been working really hard and running really well and looking to end the season there but unfortunately got cut short for them.”

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District vaccinated over 300 educators and support staff against COVID-19 Friday at clinics across the peninsula. 

Mountain View Elementary Principal Karl Kircher got his first dose at the Soldotna clinic. He was really excited about it.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will return to in-personal classes Jan. 11. Educators are preparing for the change.


Central Kenai Peninsula schools will follow their eastern peninsula counterparts in shifting immediately to 100 percent remote learning as coronavirus cases spike locally. That’s 17 schools from Sterling to Kasilof, through Kenai, Nikiski and Soldotna.

The central peninsula has been inching toward the red zone for a while. Yesterday, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District issued an “advance warning” that central peninsula schools would shift to remote learning if case counts continued to rise in the region. That was after several new cases were reported locally, part of a trend of rising numbers statewide.

Courtesy of KPBSD

Coronavirus rates are quickly worsening in Alaska. Schools on the central peninsula might suspend in-person classes as a result.

Today, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District issued an “advance warning” that central peninsula schools will shift to 100 percent remote learning as of Monday, Oct. 19 if case counts continue to rise in the region. Schools would remain remote for at least a week.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will ask the state to count the number of students enrolled in the school district last year, rather than this year, to determine how much funding the district will get in the 2021 fiscal year.

The assembly voted unanimously to put forth the recommendation at its meeting Tuesday.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

It’s Spirit Week at Kenai Central High School. Which is fitting, since students are particularly excited to be back in class this year.

“I think everybody is so glad to be back here,” said high school junior Katie Stockton. “So many people don’t like the remote learning. It just gets hard, it’s a lot more difficult to motivate yourself to do it.”

Stockton and her peers have just completed their first full week back at school in over six months and their third week of school this school year (the first two were remote).

Schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District opened their doors back up last Tuesday because of reduced COVID-19 rates across the peninsula. Now, students can engage in the parts of high school that have been impossible to recreate over Zoom, like hallway socializing and after-school activities.



School starts in the Kenai Peninsula Borough on Monday but students at 17 central peninsula schools will be learning from home. COVID-19 case counts have risen to the point of putting central peninsula schools in red, high-risk status, meaning schools in Kasilof, Sterling, Kenai, Nikiski and Soldotna are shifting to remote learning. 

The eastern peninsula is at yellow, or medium-risk status, while the southern peninsula and remote communities are at green, low-risk status. Class will be in session at schools in those regions Monday. The risk statuses are based on the average number of cases over a 14-day range, as well as other factors. 

“So we’re looking at what the daily counts are from the state. So we’re taking the scientific data that the state has and they’ve verified and we’re looking at the 14-day trends. We’re looking at seven-day averages. And remember, with COVID, we’re always looking behind us, it’s not really what's happening today,” said Pegge Erkeneff, communications director for KPBSD. “And so we’re looking at all that with our medical advisory team to determine, is the risk really shifting to higher? And then we have to look at if we have a positive case in a school, a student or staff person. And that’s a different thing and could require a different response than if we’re looking at what these 14-day trends are.”

The district has COVID information on alert levels, school status, COVID mitigation, sports, remote learning and much more on its COVID-19 dashboard, available from its website.

On Monday, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District unveiled its Smart Start plan for opening schools Aug. 24 amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

Superintendent John O’Brien outlined the plan to the Board of Education during an afternoon work session.

“Really, the hallmark of our KPBSD plan provides parents with choice, consistency, continuity and, of course, we are very firm on symptom-free schools being an aspect of this Smart Start plan if we’re going to be able to keep students in school this year,” O’Brien said.

A committee has been working on the plan since May. Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Clayton Holland, who chairs the committee, says the plan takes into account parental feedback.

“Parents will have the choice to decide if they’re going to be our neighborhood school in person with the kids or be part of our neighborhood school and participate remotely and/or join our Connections homeschool program,” Holland  said. “So we’re offering those choices between there. We’re hoping that that meets the needs of our families.” 


The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is working on contingency plans for reopening schools in the fall. At a Monday night school board meeting, Superintendent John O’Brien said the “Smart Start” workgroup, made up of parents, teachers, staff and administrators, is working with the state to develop various options, since no one knows what the COVID-19 situation will be in August.

“Scenarios for low-risk, medium-risk and high-risk situations that are plans that can be developed and implemented, not necessarily as a one-size-fits-all for the entire district, but that will be agile enough and flexible enough to be implemented in various parts of the school district, depending upon the situation,” O’Brien said.

Parents, teachers and administrators in the Kenai Peninsula School District jumped into the new reality of eLearning March 30, with school facility closures due to the coronavirus pandemic. Of the eve of the change, KDLL visited with Crista Cady, music teacher at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science, Skyview Middle School Principal Sarge Truesdell and Nikiski mom Ambger Douglas about their hopes and concerns for the new reality of education.
This week, we check back in to see how things went.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education voted to seat a superintendent search oversight committee at its meeting May 6. Current Superintendent John O’Brien announced his plans to retire in June.

O’Brien started his career in 1993 as a special education teacher in Maine. He also became an athletic director, assistant principal and principal while in Maine. He and his family moved to Nikiski in 2005 for a job as principal of Nikiski Middle-High School. In 2011, he became director of Secondary Education for KPBSD, and in 2015 became the assistant superintendent of Instruction.

He was offered the job of superintendent for the 2019-2020 school year when none of the candidates that had applied were chosen for the position. He had indicated he was not planning on serving in that role for multiple years. O’Brien underwent surgery and treatment for kidney cancer just before spring break in March. 


Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s announcement Thursday that distance delivery of education will continue through the rest of the school year did not come as a surprise to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff says the district has been expecting to continue the remote learning system it began March 30 through the end of school May 20.

“Overall, we’ve heard really positive things. The schools are there for our kids, our nurses are reaching out, we’re doing the lunch programs. And we can always improve, so we look forward to hearing, ‘What do you need?’ And we’ll be as responsive as we can,” she said.


The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is as up in the air as everyone else about what the coronavirus pandemic will mean, financially.

The district’s Board of Education met Monday via teleconference. Acting Superintendent Dave Jones outlined several factors that will impact the district — one good, most bad.

The district has no mechanism to raise its own money, so is at the mercy of the borough, state and federal governments for revenue. Borough administration had committed to funding the district next year to the full amount allowed under state statute. But, given the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic, Jones said that Mayor Charlie Pierce has warned that might not happen.

“He’s very concerned about the economic effect that’s happening in our borough, especially what is going to happen with our sales tax and with the possible delinquent taxes that could not get paid. Has a concern that they may not be able to support to the amount that they had originally committed to,” Jones said.

Meet the Douglas family. Mom and dad, Amber and John, and kids Noah, Ryan and Sawyer. Come Monday, they are going to be among the thousands of families shifting to eLearning in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.  

“I am super grateful that our teachers have had the courage that it takes to completely shift what they know about teaching kids and supporting families and be willing to put out something brand new and have the grace that we’re all going to be learning that together.”

The Douglases own Nikiski Hardware and Marine, where the office will become the schoolroom. Mom works in the office, so she’s going to take the lead on being the learning coach, technology troubleshooter, chief motivator, taskmaster and maybe a little Zen master.

“I think the big challenge for me coming into this is just understanding that we need to have balance. And if we can find these learning opportunities and be actively looking for them, they’re probably going to look different then were used to them looking, but they’re still going to be valuable. I’m going half to do some self-coaching and remind myself that they are 12, 10 and 4.”

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.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent John O’Brien is optimistic going into this budget season, with Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposing flat funding for K-12 education in Alaska, and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Peirce saying he’ll support local funding to the cap.

O’Brien addressed the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

“I’m very hopeful for 2020 I really feel we’re in a much better place than we were last year,” he said. “And I hope that we see good results and good things happening for our schools and our communities in the new year.”

District begins crafting FY21 budget

Nov 18, 2019


The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is beginning its annual process to craft next year’s budget. That process has been marked in recent years by budget cuts from state, translating to staffing cuts in the district. Administrators remain optimistic for funding this year, but recognize the challenges they could face.



Three candidates are vying for the District 1, Kalifornsky Beach seat on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education.

Incumbent Dan Castimore is trying for his third term on the board. He’s an IT manager for the city of Kenai and a lifelong peninsula resident whose parents taught in the district. He said he’s running again because he thinks there’s more work to be done to shield students from budget cuts.

Patti Truesdell just retired from teaching, with her last placement at Hope School. She was recognized as a BP Teacher of Excellence in 2016. She said she’s running because she promised her students she’d keep fighting for them.

Susan Lockwood taught elementary school in villages across Alaska. She says she’s running because she doesn’t like how education is changing, being influenced by liberal ideas. She says she wants to get back to reading, writing and arithmetic and honoring our nation’s Founding Fathers, the flag and Pledge of Allegiance.


The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District was issued notice Friday evening that employees plan to strike starting at 7 a.m. Tuesday.
Bargaining teams for the district and associations representing teachers and support staff met Thursday afternoon in a continued effort to reach an agreement on a proposal to split health insurance costs. That sticking point is holding up a contract that has been under negotiation for more than a year and a half.

Municipal elections are Oct. 1. We spoke with candidates for the District 1, Kalifornsky seat on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education. Incumbent Dan Castimore and challenger Patty Truesdell were in the studio. Susan Lockwood was not able to make the live show so we connected with her earlier in the week.

Monday night the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education held their last meeting before classes resume later this month.
The school board was reminded by David Brighton of the teachers union, that not everything was quite ready.

School district gets its promised funds from state

Jun 17, 2019

Governor Mike Dunleavy’s plan to block $20 million in forward-funding for Alaska school districts wound up going nowhere in the state legislature this year, and as a result, money districts have been counting on has finally arrived.

However, some — if not most — districts have already spent their portion of the allocation. Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones explains.

School district employees vote for strike

May 23, 2019


Kenai Peninsula Borough School District employees voted Wednesday to strike next fall over rising healthcare costs. Members of both unions representing teachers and support staff in the school district voted overwhelmingly in support of the strike if both parties can’t agree on terms of a new contract this summer.



O'Brien accepts interim superintendent offer

Apr 19, 2019


John O’Brien has accepted the offer to become interim superintendent of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. His predecessor, Sean Dusek, announced his retirement in January.

Superintendent Dusek announces retirement

Jan 15, 2019
Kenai Peninsula Borough School District


After four and a half years at the helm of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, Superintendent Sean Dusek has announced his retirement, effective June 30th.