In a bittersweet moment during the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education meeting on Monday in the Homer High School theater, board member Lynn Hohl moved to “regretfully approve” the resignation of board member Liz Downing.
Penny Vadla, the school board clerk, “regretfully seconded” the motion and the board voted unanimously to allow their colleague of 11 years to move on to the next step in her life.
Downing held the school board member position for District 8, representing Homer area schools. The seat is now open for applications. An applicant will be appointed to the position and then will run for re-election in October 2017 if they wish to continue on the seat, according to a press release from the school district.
As for Downing, she plans to travel, though where is still an open-ended question.
“My husband’s been pretty much doing what I want to do for the last thirty years and it’s time to do what he wants to do and that happens to be traveling so I can go along with that,” Downing said. “We have a little RV so we’re taking it (to) Seattle and we’re probably doing the mountain states and who knows. We don’t have any specific plans. We’ll go wherever we feel like.”
Prior to holding her position on the Board of Education, Downing worked in education both as a career and as a service to the Homer community. She worked as the student services manager at the Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College for 20 years and then managed an innovation grant for the college for five years. She also served for three years on the Paul Banks Elementary Site Council and was starting on the West Homer Elementary Site Council when a position on the school board opened.
“Education’s my thing and I tried volunteering in the classroom when my son was in kindergarten and I found out that wasn’t my forte,” Downing said. “I found I was better at strategic planning.”
Downing’s knowledge of the inner workings of education have been a valuable asset to the board. In addition to understanding processes, she was an advocate for innovation within the district as well.
“She is a driving force behind personal education and student innovation, and she is research oriented so she knows what she is talking about,” said Superintendent Sean Dusek. “She worked hard in expanding technology use in the classroom. She is a champion for enriching student opportunities. … She ensured all students are met at their level.”
Downing encouraged the board members at the close of the meeting to continue pushing boundaries and setting high goals for schools in Kenai Peninsula Borough School District schools.
“Education is changing very quickly and I know some folks look back to the good ol’ days but even watching my son’s education and seeing how much better it was in so many ways than mine, and I had a great education,” Downing said in an interview prior to the board meeting. “We will eventually be out of a traditional school sit-in-a-seat classroom model. We’ve already been doing some innovative things in this district. There are classrooms where there are hardly any desks, opportunities to do things online, and doing things in the community. It’s advancing further where students are going to be getting info from so many different places rather than the sage on the stage, the teacher. It’s going to be a more enriching experience and more flexible.”
At the close of the meeting, Downing also encouraged Homer residents to apply for the now-vacant position. Though many people have told her that it is a thankless job, she disagrees. Many people have expressed to her their gratitude for her service over the years, she said.
“You might find a taller representative, but you will have to go far to find one who cares more,” said board of education president Joe Arness, jokingly referring to Downing’s comparatively short stature during the board meeting.
In addition to Downing’s resignation, board members approved four other action items.
— The board unanimously approved new teacher contracts for 2016-17, resignations and budget transfers.
— The board voted to approve the curricular materials and credentials related to human reproduction and sexual matters. Conny Acres, the Homer High School librarian, asked the board to consider inviting pregnancy resource centers that held pro-abstinence, pro-life values to teach in the schools as well. Marty Anderson voted against approving the curricular materials and credentials, and asked during comments whether the organizations mentioned by Acres had been invited.
For Homer, the vote means the Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic staff and REC Room peer educators can continue to teach in partnership with the schools.
— The board also approved a move to transfer the Kachemak Selo project, which would require the district to assume responsibility for the new school. Only Dan Castimore gave a dissenting vote.
— The board also voted to approve the Association of Alaska School Boards’ resolution to support changing the mandatory age for school attendance from ages 7-16 to ages 6-18. This would prevent students from dropping out of high school until they are legal adults and also ensure students get an earlier start in education, according to the resolution rationale read by Downing at the meeting. Arness, the only dissenting vote, told the board members that he would like more information on how the change in the law could affect the district. He is concerned that the move might put pressure on the district to track down students who dropped out under the current law, he said.
Anna Frost can be reached at email@example.com.