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Outdoor Homer charter school delays application by a year

Sabine Poux

An application to create an outdoor education charter school in Homer has been delayed by a year after the group behind the school was unable to find a building in time.

According to the application to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, first submitted in September, the vision of the Homer Forest Charter School is to place the classroom in the outdoor environment, and to create a place where, “learning ignites a sense of wonder, stewardship, and curiosity.”

The district has a process for approving charter schools, which requires applicants to declare their intention more than a year before they intend to open. After receiving approval from the district, applications go on to the state Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, which gets the final say. The district currently has four charter schools on the peninsula.

The team behind the Homer Forest School includes local educators and parents. They have been going back and forth with the board of education over the past several months, making revisions to their application. Although the group once hoped to get the final okay on their proposal on Monday, they instead decided to delay that approval process and push their planned opening from fall 2023 to fall 2024.

Board Vice President Zen Kelly says the charter group requested the delay during a work session Monday night, saying they will be unable to secure a location by the fall.

One of the district’s primary concerns about the charter application has been the group’s inability to secure a facility that meets the district’s occupancy requirements. Another proposed charter school, the Greatland Charter School in Kenai, was approved without having an appropriate facility and, as a result, was unable to open.

The district had additional concerns, including questions about enrollment numbers, the blended learning model described in the application, and the projected budget.

The state doesn’t accept charter applications more than a year in advance, so the Board will wait until Aug. 2023 to readdress the Forest School Application.

Between now and August, the charter group will need to secure a school facility. Kelly says the group is working on getting a property linked to the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies in Homer, which the center would use in the summer and the charter school would use in winter. However, there’s no building on the property yet.

Kelly says the new building will need to meet certain district standards, like having sprinklers and a certain number of bathrooms per student.

During last night’s Board of Education meeting, following the work session, several members offered words of encouragement to the group behind the charter application.

“I hope they don’t give up. I hope they keep working,” Patti Truesdell, chair of the Charter School Oversight Committee, said at the Dec. 5 board meeting. “I believe in our charter schools, I really honestly do. And I think they’re on to something.”

Homer Forest isn’t the only charter school hoping to get off the ground in the school district. In October, a group of parents and community members in Nikolaevsk submitted an application to dissolve their public school and replace it with a charter school — a reaction to complaints with the district’s treatment of the remote school. However, the group missed the Aug. 1 deadline to declare their intention to found a charter school.

Riley Board is a Report For America corps member covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula for KDLL. A recent graduate of Middlebury College, where she studied linguistics, English literature and German, Board was editor-in-chief of The Middlebury Campus, the student newspaper, and completed work as a Kellogg Fellow, doing independent linguistics research. She has interned at the Burlington Free Press, covering the early days of the pandemic’s effects on Vermont communities, and at Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife, where she wrote about culture and folklife in Washington, D.C. and beyond. Board hails from Sarasota, Florida.
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