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Open Letter: To All Members of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly
By James Guenther


October 14, 2005
Friday AM

I have been a schoolteacher for 24 years. During the past 15 years I've taught here in Ketchikan. I currently teach seventh grade Geography at Schoenbar. I have four children attending public schools, two kids at Ketchikan High School, one at Schoenbar Middle School, and one in elementary school.

I am writing on behalf of my eighth grade daughter and the kids who are attending Schoenbar at the mall, the kids who deserve to be in a new school, the kids who are not being given a fair shot at the educational opportunities granted to most other middle school students throughout this nation. Life Skills, Shop, PE, Computer Applications, and other elective classes have been reduced in content, or are nonexistent, because of the inadequacy of a facility that cannot effectively house them. Schoenbar students are forced to run in split shifts in the upstairs of a shopping mall with no external windows and no walls separating the often-noisy activities.

The eighth graders are in overcrowded classrooms. There is no library for conducting research or even getting a good book for report. There is no place to play music as a school band or to sing as a choir. There are no sports facilities or anywhere to eat lunch with friends or even to assemble and meet as a whole school or staff. The teachers are teaching in a difficult environment. Aside from high noise levels, there is overcrowding, and few or inadequate materials. There is also the problem of building a sense of community. Seventh and eighth graders only see one another in passing at 12:30. The same is true with the staff members who are working separate shifts. There is no time of day when the staff can meet as a whole group.

The teachers have performed admirably under these conditions but this school in a mall was only meant as a short-term emergency fix. As a teacher in the mall I can tell you that the time to move out has come and gone several times. The teachers have expressed feeling demoralized by the recent news of yet another delay. The students, the staff, and the parents are expressing disappointment loudly and clearly.

Our class periods have been reduced to 44 minutes and the students' school day to 5 hours. If we expect our students to compete with their peers nationally and statewide, we need to give them more opportunities as opposed to fewer.

I hear a community concerned about the drop out rate. I see a community of citizens who pass bonds for schools. I witness a community that cares for its children. You represent us. Please don't let politics destroy the enthusiasm and opportunities of over three hundred students. These kids will be the K-Hi classes of 2010 and 2011. How many might be turned off to education in 2005 because the politics of mistrust abandoned them in a shopping mall?

I'm asking you to consider these three questions. 1) Are the recent problems associated with the Schoenbar remodel truly related to health concerns or are they the festering sore of a political-legal dispute? 2) If it isn't a health issue, what can we do to get moved into the new school? 3) Can we fix any of the remodel problems during evenings, weekends, or next summer so we can move the students in now?

Thank you all for your time and energy.


James Guenther
Ketchikan, AK - USA




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