Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administrators are creating community connections to further prove the importance public education holds in Alaska.
More than 80 people from the public and private sectors were invited to a Key Communicators Collaboration meeting Tuesday at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska. Attendees were briefed on state and local financial constraints, work being done by the school district to mitigate the strain and how anyone can become more involved.
“The biggest reason you are here is that we need to make sure we have strong lines of communication with the people that have been identified by your schools through your site councils, of the people that are kind of in the know,” said Superintendent Sean Dusek, addressing the crowd. “The other purpose is that of all years, this is probably one of the most important that we need citizens of Alaska to be engaged in the legislative process.”
The day started off with the guests, all seated at round tables, discussing a significant experience or memory identified from their own student careers.
The assigned groups included a calculated mashup of school and school district administrators, student representatives, city officials, business owners and school board members.
Choosing the guests was a group effort.
“The superintendent selected the school principals in conjunction with the (Kenai Peninsula Administrators Association) president; the leadership team identified community partners and leaders, and school principals selected student representatives,” said Pegge Erkeneff, spokesperson for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
She designed the activity with the Little Golden Books in mind, she said.
“I liked that idea of all the little stories that go so unnoticed, and then big ones, and we all know those, and the ones that grab us and don’t let go, those are the things we want to tap into … And now more than ever, it’s critical,” Erkeneff said to the audience Tuesday.
The activity reflects a broader undertaking from administrators to emphasize the role and impacts of the school district.
“Legislators have asked to see results measuring the effectiveness of public education,” Erkeneff said. “(The district) seeks to instill confidence that the public’s investment in public education is valuable and paying off; we can do this by sharing golden stories of excellence in our schools, and proof through the lives of our graduates who live and work in our state, as well as through data and results.”
“It may be a side point to the whole event, but it really helped everyone tie together and get a larger sense of community,” said Christy Terry, one of the school district’s 115 Key Communicators.
Terry said she has been working as a communicator for about a year.
Principals identify a handful of communicators at the start of every school year, to whom Erkeneff sends all relevant information that can provide more awareness within communities.
Paired with the more formal site council members, the dual approach of establishing a variety of connections between the school district and community has made a real difference, Terry said.
The event also included budget talks and highlights of successes the school district has accomplished.
Assistant Superintendent John O’Brien spoke about the variety of programs that target secondary-level students and prepare them to join the workforce, and Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones spent the same amount of time discussing finances.
“You can’t learn everything about the budget in 10 minutes,” Jones said.
But his talk did stick.
“That is something we have heard about, the price of oil dropping, but not how it would directly affect our schools,” said PK Woo, Homer High School’s Student Body President. “We talked a little in government class, but it was not really known yet that it is a problem, so that was pretty eye-opening for me.”
Woo said the discussions with her tablemates were valuable, from which she was able to glean a variety of perspectives and potential ways members of the public could be more involved and knowledgeable about the state’s, and consequentially the school district’s, financial issues.
“I really liked the overarching theme of golden stories that made it more personal for our school district, and made more factual and meaningful,” Woo said.
Following the meeting, she said she was confident school district administrators were doing what they could to mitigate negative effects on students.
She said it sounds like staff cuts are imminent, but the school district would have to make the best of it.
“I think it is going to be hard adjustment, but it’s something that we can’t avoid and we just have to make the best of the situation,” Woo said. “I don’t think it would be too noticeable because at Homer High we are pretty tight-knit. It means people that more people you know will be in the class. I think our teachers do a really good job of getting to know students on a personal basis, and it won’t have too much of a negative effect.”