School board spends day in Homer

The welcome mat was rolled out for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board’s annual visit to the southern peninsula on Monday.

After a long day of committee meetings that included an update on the state’s new assessment program, a fine-tuning of state and federal legislative priorities and resolutions to be presented to the Association of Alaska School Boards and a discussion with Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, about the district’s program to increase the use of iTouch in the classroom, the board enjoyed a meal prepared by the Homer High School culinary class.   

“I want to thank the students for a most amazing lunch-dinner,” said board member Penny Vadla of Soldotna. “Your school is amazing.”

McNeil Canyon Elementary School was in the spotlight, with a presentation by Principal Paul Swanson, staff Mo Wilkinson and Kendall Dellasperanza, and members of the K-6 school’s student council. A slide presentation included pictures of some of the students’ parents who were enrolled at McNeil when the school opened its doors 30 years ago, interviews with faculty and an overview of school traditions and activities.

“Most of the time when McNeil has been up here to present, it’s been a one-man show. This year I decided to have some help,” said Swanson of the students giving the presentation. “This is a class you want to keep your eye on. … I’m not going to add a lot to that because they really talked about the heart and soul of McNeil.”

Tim Navarre, school board member from Kenai, offered his appreciation for the presentation.

The board got an unexpected travel offer from Al Poindexter, a former KPBSD teacher who, among other subjects, taught Homer High School’s natural resources class. Poindexter has served as an education specialist for the Homer Soil and Water Conservation District and is the owner-operator of Anchor Point Greenhouse.  

“I want to bring attention to a program that I think is one of the best education programs in the country,” said Poindexter. “I’m going to offer two free tickets to the national convention of this program to any board member or administrator to go see what this is all about. Where else can you take a class in a program and learn how to do artificial insemination of a cow, extract DNA form a salmon … identify and collect macro-invertebrates, plans trees to reforest areas, learn to weld, start a business that will support up to 20 employees? All of those things can be done in the program that I’m going to talk about.”

The program: FFA, formerly Future Farmers of America. Noting FFA’s leadership training, emphasis on service work and volunteerism, and skill development, Poindexter added, “This is the first year Homer High School will not be sending a student to the national convention for the competition and participation. As you know full well, the success of the program is dependent on administrative and teacher support. … I implore you to visit the national FFA convention and see what these kids are missing out on.”

While Poindexter did not get any immediate takers, board member Vadla offered her praise of FFA and Poindexter.

“I have a nephew that went through FFA and has an amazing mechanic business,” she said. To Poindexter, she added, “I’ve always admired you for your ability to sustain these programs. They are programs sometimes that get the student who might not be ‘got’ some other way.”

Board member Bill Holt of Kasilof thanked Poindexter “for explaining how FFA has broadened in scope over the years.”

Superintendent Steve Atwater’s report noted increased enrollment at schools in Soldotna and Sterling. In a short financial update from Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones, Jones said the district’s finances were exactly “where we’re supposed to be” at this time of the year. 

The bulk of the meeting was dedicated to retiring board member Sammy Crawford of Kenai.

“From time to time we have a good time. Other times are not as much fun. This is one of those moments that’s not as much fun,” said Board President Joe Arness, framing his farewell comments to Crawford.

After arriving in Kenai in 1968, Crawford taught at Kenai Junior, Soldotna Junior and Soldotna High schools. She retired from teaching in 1996 and has served on the board since 1998.

Each board member, in turn, thanked Crawford for her service.

“She’s been my mentor, a friend and I can’t imagine the board without her,” said board member Sunni Hilts of Seldovia.

On a different topic, Hilts pointed out that Monday was “National Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Awareness Day.”

“Six of my grandchildren are affected with FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorders), so this is very meaningful to me. I have two great-grandsons and a great-granddaughter almost here that are not affected. Their parents have said ‘it stops here,’ so today is kind of a celebration for me. It proves that awareness can make a difference,” said Hilts, drawing applause from the audience.

In closing comments, board member Liz Downing of Homer reminded the audience of the upcoming Oct. 1 election. The ballot includes a $22.9 million “educational capital improvement general obligation bonds” proposition that, if approved, would be used for capital improvements to include a new Homer High School field and roof replacements for school facilities throughout the district.

The next meeting of the Kenai Peninsula School Board will be Oct. 14 in Soldotna.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at