Homer Alaska - Schools

Story last updated at 2:42 PM on Wednesday, August 31, 2011

WHES does 'an amazing job'

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

West Homer Elementary School's third- through sixth-grade students began the second week of the school year by welcom some important guests: Liz Downing, who represents Homer on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District board, and Dr. Steve Atwater, KPBSD superintendent, who were accompanying Mike Hanley, commissioner for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.


Mike Hanley, Commissioner, Department of Education and Early Development

Having been invited by Atwater to visit the school district, Hanley said yes, but the visit had to include Homer.

"When good things happen, it goes beyond your teachers and your families," Hanley told the students. "I hear about it in Juneau. The kids in Homer are doing amazing things."

So amazing, in fact, that if you Google "Alaska SBA rank order," SBA meaning "standard based assessment," you'll find West Homer ranked second in the state, just one point behind Ravenwood Elementary, a prekindergarten through sixth-grade school of 437 students in the Anchorage School District.

"Sitting in my office in Juneau, I was reading about you," Hanley told the students. "The things you're doing here, people know about around the state. I told the governor, 'You know what is going on in Homer?' You're doing an awesome job here."

Hanley has been commissioner since February. Prior to that, he spent six years as principal of an elementary school in the Anchorage School District, and taught before that.

Ray Marshall, WHES principal, said the students' high achievement was the result of several factors.

"Our teachers are collaborating and working hard together, our students are working hard, our parents are very supportive and students are coming to us very well prepared from Paul Banks (Elementary School)," said Marshall. "That's a great foundation we can build on. ... There's a school in Anchorage that's ranked as beating us, but I honestly believe we're the top performing school in the entire state."

Hanley asked the students what they thought made for a great school. Their answers included great students, good teachers, a good principal and a good school district.

"You could have the very best (teachers, principal and school district) and still not be a good school if it weren't for the students," said Hanley. "I walked in and knew this was a great place to be. Not all schools are like that. ... People around the state, including the governor of Alaska, know what you're doing."

Atwater and Downing seconded the commissioner's praise.

"You're being recognized for doing all the good things you do," said Atwater.

Downing, who said her son had attended WHES and "learned such great skills here," encouraged the youngsters to keep working hard.

"It'll pay off," she said.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.