The first day of school for many students is only about a week away. And Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater is looking forward to a new year with a few goals in mind for the district.
The school district is already doing pretty well performance-wise. The latest rating from the Alaska School Performance Index gave three-quarters of the schools a four or five star rating. That new system was created after the state applied for a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind requirements. Atwater said many components go into the rating such as student performance and attendance.
“Unless you have a 95 percent attendance rate… you don’t get the maximum number of points to qualify for the high-star rating. So we do have some schools who academically did fine and deserve the five star, but their attendance was not quite where it needed to be. So the principals are taking a hard look at that, and really, first, looking at themselves. Are there things that we can do differently inside our buildings? After we’ve covered all of those bases then we need to have a broader outreach to the parents and to the community as a whole,” he said.
But he pointed out that attendance may continue to be an ongoing issue in some areas. He said Alaska is in a unique situation.
“A lot of our families are tied to seasonal work during the summertime, and as such, they take family vacations in the winter. I think we’re always going to be stuck in that predicament,” he said.
Atwater said there may be a creative solution out there to get more kids sitting at their desks. He said an important component to district-wide improvements is teacher collaboration. Staff throughout the Kenai Peninsula have been working together to increase attendance and boost knowledge retention.
“We’re hoping the product from that is that we create these innovative type solutions to small problems and then create… a cycle of improvement that are short. So after 90 days we can determine whether or not this innovation’s making a difference,” he said.
Atwater has been looking outside the district for new approaches to education. He has been selected as a member for the Education Northwest Board. It’s essentially an education research institute that looks for best practices.
“So being able to expand our reach to include a national focus or national perspective will help us… I’m really excited about that. It’ll expose me as the leader of the district to practices that are going on across the country, specifically in the Northwest. So it expands our circle,” he said.
He said the board has been looking into what it means to make high school students “career or college ready.” There was a meeting in Anchorage this summer discussing what those terms mean for Alaska specifically.
“The term is loosely applied, or loosely thrown around. So they’re working hard to decide what it is the kids really need to have and be ready to do when they get out of high school,” he said.
School begins for most of the Kenai Peninsula on Aug. 20. Atwater says the district has 61 new teachers and seven new administrators for this year.