Three Homer-area schools earn state honors

Forty-nine schools have been identified as 2013 Alaska Reward Schools in honor of their student achievement, with two categories recognized: highest performing and high progress. Seven of those 49 are in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Three of those seven are on the southern peninsula.

Highest Performing and High Progress KPBSD Schools

Aurora Borealis Charter School

Kaleidoscope School of Arts & Sciences

West Homer Elementary School

Highest performing

Paul Banks Elementary School

High Progress KPBSD Schools

Cooper Landing School
McNeil Canyon Elementary School
Moose Pass School

West Homer, a third- through sixth-grade elementary school, has been recognized in both categories, the result of several factors, said Raymond Marshall, principal since 2010. 

“We have really, really hard-working teachers that are trying new things and being innovative in education,” said Marshall. “We’re trying hard to meet students where their needs are and bring them up to where standards require them to be.”

Marshall credited supportive families.

“I’ve been in three communities as principal and we have more supportive families than any community I’ve been in. That makes for hard-working students,” he said.

Another factor noted by Marshall is Homer’s network of schools designated five-star by the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development’s accountability system. They include Paul Banks, a prekindergarten through second-grade school; Homer Middle School, with grades 7 and 8; and WHES. 

“If (students) didn’t get a good start at Paul Banks, we wouldn’t be five-star either,” said Marshall. “It really takes a village to raise a child and this is a really good village.”

Paul Banks Principal Eric Pederson said he attributes that school’s “highest performing” recognition to, “first off, the great students, and the parents and staff and basically what we do here at Paul Banks.”

Pederson said a lot of the school’s success is due to “a shared sense of pride in the preK-2 program we are able to offer the community of Homer, a unique configuration that helps us stay focused on fundamentals with an emphasis on early interventional and developmentally appropriate practices that nurture young learners.”

In his first year at the school, he said much of the school’s success reflects the efforts of former Principal Benny Abraham, who retired following the 2012-2013 school year, staff, the community and, mainly, the parents.

“I can’t take credit for it, but I’d like to,” said Pederson.

He also gave credit to the involvement of families in groups like Head Start, Best Beginnings Homer and Sprout.

“My parents are already engaged in the educational progress,” said Pederson. “They’re not only preparing their kids for when they come to us, but the parents are already learning about educational engagement.”

Like Marshall, Pederson noted the Homer area’s network of outstanding schools “that reaches all the way to McNeil (Canyon Elementary School). That speaks volumes about the whole community,” he said.

Recognition isn’t new for McNeil Canyon, a K-6 school named a national “Blue Ribbon School” in 2004.

“My own personal bias is that it’s the best school,” said Principal Pete Swanson, who has been at McNeil for 14 years. “We have a very supportive community. They’re interested in what’s best for kids and when I say ‘community,’ I mean the whole package out here: people that live here, work here, people that got this school started in 1983. This is our 30th year.”

A press release recognizing the seven KPBSD schools was issued by the district Oct. 22.

“The highest performing, high progress designation speaks to the commitment to excellence of our students, staff and stakeholders at these schools,” Dr. Steve Atwater, KPBSD superintendent, said in that announcement.

To be a “highest-performing” school, a school must be in the top 10 percent of schools in its grade span based on its score under the state’s School Performance Index. These schools also must have during the most recent two years a graduation rate averaging at least 85 percent if it has a 12th grade and for the most recent two years met its goal for increasing the student body’s percentage as a whole, as well as for subgroups of students, the proficiency in reading, writing and math.

A “high-progress” school must be in the highest 10 percent of all schools in the “growth and proficiency index;” have an average score of at least 95 in that area during the past three years; have an average “growth and proficiency index” score of at least 90 in the most recent year for the subgroups Alaska Native/American Indian students, economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities or English language learners if there are at least five students in a subgroup; and the graduation rate must average at least 85 percent over the past two most recent years if the school has a 12th grade.

The “growth and proficiency index” measures whether a school’s student population from year to year is increasing, remaining stable or declining in reading, writing and math. The score is received for the student body as a whole and for each of the four subgroups noted. It examines each student’s performance over the two years being considered, creating a combined picture the school’s performance overall. 

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at