Soldotna High School’s name will not change for next year’s new schools configuration. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District school board made the decision during its meeting Monday night. The name on the building became the most contentious part of the reconfiguration process.
Monday night’s meeting was unusually long. Twenty-five people provided comments about the recommendations from the committee tasked with making suggestions for the new configuration. The group had come to a consensus on blending the colors of each of the current schools: Soldotna Middle, Skyview and SoHi, making the mascot for the 7th and 8th graders the Panther, and the Stars for the 9th grade building as well as the 10th through 12th grades.
The members also suggested calling the buildings Skyview Middle, Soldotna Prep and either Soldotna Central High School or leaving the current name alone.
It was that last part that drew the most ire and spawned dueling Facebook groups, passionate letters to the editor and numerous comments to the school board. The side that wanted to keep SoHi as is had a common thread: a change would cost too much. The district has said any new signs and colors would be part of a process that’s already set. That way no new money would be spent, which causes a delay in physical changes.
Because of that delay, some who opposed adding a word like “Central” say the new school name might not have the bonding effect district officials initially hoped for. SoHi Junior Courtney Vanzant is in that camp.
“What I’ve heard... the change will occur over the next eight years or so. The students that currently attend Skyview that the change is going into effect for will not be there any longer,” she said.
Vanzant said she’s always wanted to graduate from SoHi and a name change for her senior year would prevent that. The consistent theme from the Skyview side has been the students and parents have sought compromise and a fresh start, but they haven’t seen enough indication that’s the case.
Mike Gallagher served on the committee that made suggestions for the school board. His son James was one of two students who created the Facebook page Save Skyview when these discussions first started in the spring.
“I continually hear... from the folks at Soldotna tonight being against any changes; being against the merger. I’m asking you, where were you when we were fighting this fight in the beginning,” he said.
By the time it was school board’s turn to weigh in, there was discussion about what exactly it could recommend or approve. Some members pointed out the board has no history of selecting mascots and colors because that’s been left up to the schools.
Member Tim Navarre said he doesn’t want to take that power away from the populations at the schools. He said taking the recommendation from the reconfiguration committee might not be the way to go, even if that group was created for that purpose.
Member Sunni Hilts pointed out the board is in a gray area in this situation and essentially recommending a recommendation doesn’t mean those decisions are set in stone. Both the suggestions for mascots and colors were approved. The remaining discussion focused on the school name. Many members pointed out that no matter what the official change is, it will always be known as “SoHi.” So what’s the point of adding a new word?
When it came time to vote, President Joe Arness became the tie-breaker with a yes vote. And with that, the 10th through 12th grade students from Skyview and SoHi will walk into a building called Soldotna High School next year and create a new school.