Two charter schools propose changes

Two charter schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District are looking to the school board to amend their charter school contracts.

Aurora Borealis Charter School in Kenai is looking to expand to include high school grade levels. Currently Aurora Borealis, which opened its doors in 1997, is a K-8 school with an enrollment just shy of 200 students.

According to a proposal to the school board, the charter school would add a maximum of 20 students per grade level with ninth and 10th grade being added in 2018-2019, 11th grade the next year and 12th grade the year following that.

The school would use curriculum based off the Peak Charter School from Colorado, which also has an elementary philosophy that closely mirrors Aurora’s, the proposal states.

“Peak to Peak is a K-12 charter school with some of the highest test scores in the nation. … and Peak to Peak is a well-established school,” according to the proposal.

Besides curriculum, though, Aurora would struggle to house the new grades. Currently, the school utilizes every room in their wing of the old Kenai Elementary School on Frontage Road in Kenai, which they share with Kenai Alternative High School and the Boys and Girls Club of Kenai. The proposal lists several options including utilizing portables, finding a new facility, utilizing more space in their current facility or using a home-school strategy.

The proposal also expresses concern about maintaining the charter school’s climate and culture.

“Some concern has been voiced about bringing in high school students who did not attend Aurora in grade school and junior high,” the proposal states. “This is a legitimate concern; however, the curriculum committee believes educating the public on the rigors of Aurora’s new high school would help in this area.”

The proposal is just one step in the process, which began with Aurora’s Academic Policy Committee creating a High School Committee. The school board’s Charter School Oversight Committee discussed the expansion and looked over the proposal before Monday night’s Board of Education meeting.

“It’s going to take a lot more discussion so you’ll be hearing more about that in the future,” Board Member Lynn Hohl told the board.

In Homer, Fireweed Academy is requesting to change their pupil-teacher ratios (PTR), which currently stands at 14 to one throughout the school. Principal Todd Hindman requests the contract be changed to 18 to one in kindergarten through second-grade classes and to 20 to one in the third- to sixth-grade classes.

“This fall, Fireweed Academy had a significant increase in student enrollment that placed a considerable strain on each of our facilities,” Hindman wrote in a letter to the school board. “… In the original proposal, the PTR was 14:1, when the school only consisted of two teachers and two classrooms. I would like for our present contract to contain a PTR statement that is relevant to the facilities we are currently using.”

According to Hindman, the new language wouldn’t affect the school’s delivery of instruction.

“The Fireweed (Academy) wants to change their PTR in their original contract and make it more aligned with their practice,” Hohl said. She said the committee recommended that the board moves forward with Hindman’s request.

Aurora Borealis and Fireweed Academy are two of four open charter schools in the district. A fifth charter school, Greatland Adventure Academy, is also authorized but opening is delayed depending on an ability to find a suitable physical space.

Charter schools are free, public schools, just like the all the other public schools in the district, but utilize a different curriculum from the school district’s. The curriculum, though, must be approved by the district and state school boards.

Charter schools also have an Academic Policy Committee of parents and staff to ensure the school’s mission and the integrity of the school’s charter. The Academic Policy Committee is also responsible for hiring, firing and ensuring the charter school follows all local and state educational policies.

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com.

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