Soldotna schools administrators are crediting the academic improvements to the recent school reconfiguration.
With the first school year of the reconfiguration coming to a close on May 20, administrators and educators are already starting to evaluate the reorganization of the Soldotna middle and high schools for the area’s more than 1,100 students.
“Because of the reconfiguration and the creation of Soldotna Prep School for the Soldotna area’s ninth-grade students, we have been able to focus on building a culture of early success for our students,” said Soldotna Prep principal Curtis Schmidt.
Soldotna Prep will have roughly 87 percent of this year’s ninth-grade class on track to graduate in four years at the end of the school year, Schmidt said. This is in comparison to the previous 5-year average of 75 percent of Soldotna area ninth-graders, he said
More than one-third of Soldotna Prep’s students will have actually earned more than one year’s worth of high school credit at the end of their freshman year, Schmidt said.
Schmidt cites redesigning the school’s daily schedule and teaching assignments as a major factor contributing to the increased success.
This year “teachers are organized into core teams with one history, math, science, and language arts teacher per 100 students,” Schmidt said. “The four teachers work as a team and have a common prep time where they meet periodically together to develop and plan core teaching methods as well as design interventions for struggling students.”
Social Studies teacher Rob Sparks said the core teams helped students and educators get to know each other earlier and build a better rapport. Educators are able to look at their students as a whole, he said.
If a student is struggling or acting out in a language arts class, but not a math class a teacher can ask the other, “What is not working for me and what is working for you?” Sparks said.
“You get such a better picture of the student,” Sparks said.
Sparks used to work with all high school grade levels at Skyview. He said the mix of high school experienced educators and middle school experienced educators helped design curriculum that fit specifically for ninth-graders.
Soldotna High School Principal Todd Svyerson said improved success in the ninth grade will carry over for students when they move on to Soldotna High School, which now house students in 10th through 12th grades.
If students are not behind in credits when they enter the high school they can take advantage of the many elective courses that directly relate to post-graduation career readiness, Syverson said. Classes relating to the oil and gas industry, food service and medical industries are available to students who are on track to graduate, he said.
The new Soldotna Alternative program, modeled after Kenai Alternative High School, is bringing up to speed students who are struggling when they enter high school, Syverson said. Nintey-four percent of the nearly 20 students that have been enrolled regularly this year are caught up on credits, he said.
“Our interventions are also significantly decreasing failing grades,” Syverson said.
With the media center now open until 5 p.m. daily, and Saturday school offered almost every weekend, students received the extra tutoring and attention they needed to improve their grades, Syverson said. The school won’t know by how much until the end of the school year, he said.
However, the school’s nearly 95 percent graduation rate average, well more than the 80 percent national average, is on track to remain the same, Syverson said.
Terri Zopf-Schoessler, a former Skyview High School teacher now at Soldotna High School, said educators are prepared to tailor their teaching to their students.
“Honestly, we are going to teach the kids no matter where they are,” Zopf-Schoessler said. “That’s our job.”
Schmidt and Skyview Middle School principal Sargeant Truesdell reported less behavior-related issues at the two schools.
“Another very impressive success has been our ability to cut the number of student discipline incidents in half,” Schmidt said.
Truesdell said unruly hallway behavior was nearly nil, due to the larger hallway size and availability of a commons area the new facility offers.
“There is bigger space and somewhere to go now,” Truesdell said. “This is a phenomenal new facility.”
Because there is the space at the school all the students eat together, which Truesdell said increases cohesion among staff and students.
At Soldonta High School, the students actively took part in the reconfiguration, said Syverson.
“The students themselves were making sure they were taking care of each other,” Syverson said. “I am so proud of that.”
Initially, the transition seemed like it would be hardest for the seniors that would have spent their final year at Skyview High School, Syverson said.
James Gallagher, who spent his freshmen through junior years of high school at Skyview, said moving right before his final year was tough. When he started at Skyview, he never would have guessed his education would finish at Soldotna.
“It was pretty heartbreaking at first. It was pretty hard to get over,” Gallagher said. “It was pretty hard. I lost a lot over here.”
Allie Dusek, who spent her four high school years at Soldotna High School, said it took some time to get used to not knowing everyone at the start of the year.
“It was not bad, just weird,” Dusek said. “It was definitely a big shock with all of the new faces.”
Dusek said students formed groups with their friends at the beginning, but now those groups are mixing with each other much more.
The two-year planning process for the reconfiguration and the move itself was accomplished at minimal cost to the school district, said school district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff.
“The district added a few extra days to the school principal contracts, teachers involved in the move received a small stipend, and some temporary help was hired for the physical move,” Erkeneff said. “Other support staff assisted during their regularly assigned duties. Everyone worked together to make the move successful and keep costs at a minimum.”
The transition is intended to be permanent, Erkeneff said. The move is intended to make academic success easier for Soldotna students, she said.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at email@example.com.