• District schools see wide shift in registration
By Naomi Klouda
Shifts in school populations caught the attention of Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Steve Atwater last week when the first numbers came in from Homer.
At McNeil Canyon Elementary School, 16 fewer students enrolled than anticipated. West Homer is down by 22 students, and Paul Banks Elementary class rolls record 32 fewer than expected.
“It’s too early to say what this means,” Atwater said. “Overall enrollment is down, though it may be redistribution. It’s not a big change. We’ll have to wait until after Labor Day to see how enrollments settle.”
Depending on how the numbers land, teacher positions could be cut or students could be combined with other classrooms, he said.
“There are a lot of factors that figure into our enrollment numbers,” said Paul Banks Principal Benny Abraham. “We had 85 second-graders move on to West Homer this year, and lost students from several families affected by a Coast Guard rotation.”
Another obvious change in the Homer elementary school picture this year is the opening of Fireweed Academy East, a move that helped the 13-year-old charter school meet additional public demand for its theme-immersion model of academic instruction.
The school district leases the Von Building, the former home of Eagle Furniture, on East End Road. It added classes for Fireweed’s kindergarden-second grade. Third through sixth grade remains in space shared at West Homer Elementary, with this as the first year Fireweed was able to add on K-2.
“I think we probably lost a few students to Fireweed, but our ratios are right on,” Abraham said.
Fireweed’s total enrollment is approximately 120 on both campuses, with 17 kindergartners, 12 first-graders and 11 second-graders at the new building. Fireweed’s west campus comprises 16 students in third grade, 17 in fourth, 22 in fifth and 23 in sixth.
“Enrollment numbers are pretty steady; right around what we projected,” said Fireweed Administrator Kiki Abrahamson. “We worked really hard to get this K-2 program up and running.”
Kindergartners will then get a jump-start on using the theme-immersion model rather than waiting to build upon it in third grade.
Enrollment numbers at Homer High School are also down, dropping 11 students over last year, while Homer Middle School saw an unexpected spike of nine more students than anticipated.
Razdolna School is technically up by 20 students, but only in that it reflects the reopening of the secondary school. Last winter, due to cramped space conditions, the high school students were bussed to other schools.
Other village schools are also seeing a few more students than expected; Voznesenka is up by five students, Port Graham is up by five and Nanwalek is up by one. Seldovia’s Susan B. English School is up by seven students.
Ninilchik is another village experiencing higher-than-anticipated enrollment, with 11 additional students; Chapman Elementary at Anchor Point is up by five students.
Pete Swanson, principal at McNeil Canyon — where the school is seeing lower enrollment numbers — said district projections for that school are often an inexact science. During his past 11 years there, enrollment is generally higher than estimated. In the 2008-09 school year, they suddenly saw 17 more students than anticipated.
“We’ve never hit exactly on a district projection and often we are a little bit higher,” Swanson said. “This is the first or second time we’ve seen lower-than-projected numbers.”
Superintendent Atwater said he is happy to just “sit tight and watch how it unfolds.”
“We did anticipate some changes, since we knew Fireweed would be opening, ” Atwater said. Therefore, Paul Banks Elementary School was not as heavily staff as in previous years. “And that has worked out well for us.”
After a bit of principal-shuffling through Homer-area schools, former Razdolna principal Doug Waclawski landed at Homer High School and is getting his feet wet as assistant principal.
“My job is to discipline the students, overview the facilities and handle non teacher-related staff issues,” he explained of his new job. “I also handle the IEP stuff and work with lots of kids. So far, I love it here.”
Waclawski is married to Michelle, and they have two children. They are also hosting an exchange student this year from Mexico.
Waclawski went from three years of what he considered to be a smaller and “slower-paced” atmosphere at the village school to what he expected to be quite different in town.
“You know, it’s really not that different,” he said. “Sure, there were some culture issues with food and dress out there, but kids are kids.”
Waclawski said he is excited to see what Homer High School’s future holds, and hopes to be a part of it for a long time.
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