Members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education meet on March 2, 2021, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education meet on March 2, 2021, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

School board grades its performance

An anonymous survey including six board members assigned letter grades between “A” and “F” to the board’s actions in the last year

Results from a self-evaluation survey completed by two-thirds of the members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Board of Education show that the board members think the board’s relationship with the superintendent, members of the community and one another could be improved.

In all, six of the board’s nine members responded to the survey, which required them to assign a letter grade in response to different questions, with “A” being the highest grade and “F” being a failing grade. The survey asked board members to evaluate the performance of the board during the 2020-2021 school year. Survey responses were kept anonymous. Full survey comments were obtained by the Clarion via a public records request.

The survey asked members to reflect on a particularly contentious year for the board, which faced consistent pushback from some members of the community, who felt the district’s COVID-19 mitigation measures went too far. In addition to organizing protests and testifying at board meetings, some parents threatened to keep their kids from attending online classes if a date for a return to in-person classes was not set by the end of winter break.

The frustration shifted — to the district’s masking policies in school — once students returned to in-person classes at the beginning of this year. Those policies were ultimately relaxed for outdoor activities later in the year.

Community

When asked how they thought the community would grade the actions of the “district/board,” zero out of six respondents said “A.” Four said “B,” one said “C” and one said “F.”

“Due to the pandemic there was a small but very vocal, angry and quite frankly disturbingly rude demographic of community members who did not agree with our smart start plan, closures of schools, etc anything related to our response to the pandemic,” one board member wrote in response to the question.

That member goes on to say that the success of the school board is not dependent on any one variable and that, ultimately, the district reported academic success and meaningful learning experiences among students.

“I believe we found the right balance and it was often the [Department of Education and Early Development] and other school districts used many of [the] strategies we implemented as references,” the same comment says. “I am proud of our district despite some people not being happy about what we had to do.”

Another board member suggested having a parent representative on the school board, similar to how the board has a student representative, who could rotate on a quarterly basis.

“This past year has been tough on the board and community relationship, while the vocal group has been VERY vocal I feel they have influenced the non vocal people more than they would have in past years,” that member wrote. “The district and the board tries to engage the public in the decision making process but it seems the public doesn’t take an interest unless there is something they disagree with.”

Another question asked board members if they thought there was “ample opportunity” for members of the community to participate “in a meaningful way” in decisions and directions taken by KPBSD. Half of respondents — three board members — said “A.” Two responded with a “B” and one responded with a “D.”

Internal interactions

In reflecting on how board members interact with one another, half of respondents gave the board an “A” when asked if board members are respectful of one another and differing opinions. Four respondents gave the board an “A” when asked if board members are respectful of administrative representatives and individuals from the public.

One respondent said that board members have respect for one another, but that there are some issues that the respondent did not agree with.

“I do not think it is appropriate for other board members during public meetings to encourage the public to recall other BM,” the respondent wrote. “Nor do I agree with other board members who actively work (publicly and privately) against the will of the board decisions: even if you disagree it is what the body decides those decisions should be respected and upheld for the sake of maintaining civility and common courtesy among the BM.”

The superintendent

Zero respondents gave the board an “A” when asked if the board understands the division of responsibilities between the board and the superintendent. Three answered “A” when asked if the board and its individual members were respectful of the role of superintendent. Three members gave the board an “A” when asked if the board does an “adequate job” of supporting the superintendent in his assigned duties.

“The board (and its individual members) for the most part are respectful and supportive yet there are times when I feel the board could be more positive and kind in supporting the decisions made,” read one comment. “What happens behind closed doors is different than what happens in front of the public.”

Clayton Holland will replace outgoing Superintendent John O’Brien for the next school year. A plan submitted by the school district last month as part of the distribution of federal COVID-19 relief funding approved by the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, outlines the district’s COVID mitigation plans for the next year.

That plan describes, among other things, new masking protocols, enhanced mental health resources and flexible learning options.

That funding will be in addition to a $1.3 million grant the school district received from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also funded under ARPA, to be used for COVID-19 testing in schools.

More survey results can be found on the school board’s BoardDocs page.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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