Back To School: Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent John O’Brien

Published: Aug. 11, 2020 at 5:48 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District covers a landmass that’s similar to the state of West Virginia. It contains 42 schools of varying sizes and needs which makes planning for the new school year in the time of Covid-19 tricky.

“So really now the challenge is for each of our 42 unique schools to take our district’s smart start framework and tailor it and customize it to fit the specific needs of their schools.” Says KPBSD Superintendent John O’Brien.

As the head of this vast district, Superintendent O’Brien has already seen the difficulty of managing this district in these unusual circumstances. When the current pandemic shuttered schools this past spring teachers, students, and staff all had to scramble to switch to an online educational model.

“Remote learning in the fourth quarter, just like every district, it worked great for some families and not so well for others depending on the family situation.” Says O’Brien.

At the moment the grand majority of schools in the district are scheduled to be open to at least some level of in-person schooling. The only exception so far is in Seward where the Covid-19 infection rate is high enough to push the area into phase red where students are required to work from home unless there is an exceptional circumstance.

“Even if we are operating in a red environment we are still going to be pulling students, those vulnerable students, whether it’s a student on an intensive needs program, maybe a homeless student or a student that doesn’t speak English an ESL student. We’re still planning on bringing those students in and we want that. Even in a red high-risk environment we’ll obviously spread them out in our schools and be able to provide extreme amounts of physical distancing.” Says O’Brien.

The KPBSD will begin its year on August 24th. That’s pushed back a few days in order to give teachers a bit more preparation time for this year. Something that might prove to be important given all the technical aspects of hosting both online and in-person classes. The demand due to Covid-19 to be more effective with online educational tools has been a shock to the system for some but, Superintendent O’Brien seems to believe it’s something that was eventually going to happen even without this pandemic.

“Changes that were already slowly happening in education over time, in my opinion, it sped things up by at least ten years. So fourth quarter, having to go 100% remote, was a huge lift for all teachers not just in this district, so it was a heavy lift for teachers in this district and we did learn a lot.” Says O’Brien.

The question now is did they learn enough? While KPBSD is beginning the year largely in classrooms some students will choose to work from home, either virtually with the help of a school teacher or via a more traditional homeschooling program. There is also the possibility that a flair up in the numbers could send everyone home. A possibility no one wants to see come to fruition but that every educator should be preparing for.

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