A tiny front-page entry in the Sept. 23, 1983, Homer News, announced bids for construction of a new Homer High School had been received. Two years later, a much larger front-page story announced the newly finished school’s main doors welcomed 400 students for the 1985-1986 school year.
In 2014, the U.S. News and World Report ranked Homer High 1,826th of 19,400 public high schools in the nation and ninth in the state, based on college readiness index, math and reading proficiency and student-teacher ratio.
“Homer High School is a great place,” said Principal Doug Waclawski, in his third year at HHS. “Whether you like sports, DDF (Drama, Debate and Forensics), are really into music, you can be yourself here. I would say that’s its most outstanding quality.”
Looking back to his own high school days in Michigan, Waclawski recalled a time and place “totally different. There was such a negative atmosphere. You didn’t want to stand out. That doesn’t happen here. Everybody’s supportive.”
He attributes that to the mix of opportunities the school offers.
“We promote all extra-curricular activities. We have 40-50 percent of the students that take advantage of sports in any given season, but then we have just as many kids in other co-curricular activities besides sports,” he said, using choir, band, Battle of the Books and Ocean Bowl as examples.
The surrounding community also plays a part in setting the school atmosphere, with businesses, nonprofits and parents stepping up to participate in “FOL,” a focus-on-learning time set aside for non-academic interests.
“We have people coming in from Peace Corps, have someone volunteering to teach swing dance. We have people who volunteer to do communication training,” said Waclawski.
A “very dedicated” staff of about 60 also received Waclawski’s praise.
“That’s part of our environment here. The kids know they can talk to staff and that they’re working for their success,” he said.
Born and raised in Homer, Reba Temple is in her first year teaching algebra and geometry at HHS and is chair of the 16-member site council that includes faculty, parents and community members.
“As someone who graduated from Homer High and went on to college, I felt that HHS did an amazing job at preparing me for college and am honored to be back here teaching,” said Temple.
In his 10th year at the school, Sean Campbell teaches three ninth-grade language arts classes and two advanced placement language and composition classes. In 2012, he was named the Kenai Peninsula BP Teacher of the Year.
“I fell in love with the community and really with the kids at this school,” said Campbell.
“It’s really awesome every day to come in and work with them. They challenge and inspire me.”
Kathy Beachy’s husband, Sheldon, was in Homer High’s first four-year graduating class. The couple now have two sons enrolled at HHS. Brandon is a senior; Jordan is a freshman. Brandon’s areas of interest are a good example of opportunities the school offers. Not only does he have a four-point grade average, he also runs cross-country, plays basketball and baseball, performs with the school’s band, has taken ceramics and is in a mechanics class where he repaired his mom’s lawn mower.
“What I appreciate about the high school is there are some really, really committed and talented teachers there,” said Kim Fine, whose daughter, Molly Mitchell, is a junior.
Mitchell’s classes include one at Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage, that provides college and high school credit. Fine said this opportunity is due to the cooperative efforts of Waclawski, HHS guidance counselor Lin Hampson and KBC Director Carol Swartz.
“The more the school is flexible and works with students on creating programs that meet their needs, the happier I am with them,” said Fine.
“We’re one of those lucky towns where we have resources.”
Mitchell, who runs on the school’s cross-country and track teams, agreed.
“(Homer High School) is really open to students trying to find different opportunities to learn and different ways to learn within the high school system,” said Mitchell.
“It’s a really cool school for such a small town. If you go to other high schools, they’re just kind of ugly and suffocating and Homer High doesn’t feel like that.”
For senior Jane Rohr, student body vice president and a member of the school’s volleyball team, being involved in what’s going on at school has been important.
“We have really great academics, a DDF team that always does super, really strong sports teams and others that are starting to thrive. I think we have a great environment, plenty of helpful students and teachers and a lot of kids that are involved,” said Rohr.
It is the school’s success that Waclawski sees as its biggest challenge.
“We’re a high-achieving school. So, how do we get to the next level?” he said.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Homer High School
principal: Doug Waclawski
location: 600 E. Fairview Ave., Homer
• 390 in grades 9-12.
Of 501 Alaska schools rated by the Alaska School Performance Index, Homer High School received a four-star score of 91.32.
• Homer High is 1 of 198 schools in the state to receive a four-star rating.
• Homer High’s score is the 146th highest in the state.
• Homer High is 1 of 23 four-star schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
• Homer High’s score is 20th highest of the 43 KPBSD schools.