My Turn: Alyeska Central School not unique

Posted: Wednesday, April 23, 2003

The voters of Alaska made it abundantly clear that they want a more scaled-down, efficient state government to deliver essential state services. The governor has proposed closing the Alyeska Central School (ACS) to accomplish these goals and to terminate a state service that duplicates the new and creative efforts of local school districts to offer correspondence courses.

ACS's roots go back to 1939. At that time, it addressed a significant need. Some children in the then-territory had no access to local schools. They were the children of the pioneers of the state who were settling new areas, developing our resources, and helping shape the Alaska we all know today. ACS was their only choice, and it served those students well. After serving a peak of more than 2,000 students in the full-time program at one time, today the school educates just over one-quarter that amount.

The entire education system in Alaska has changed significantly since 1939. We now have local school districts that cover every square inch of the state and provide education to every child who resides within their borders. Local districts provide students and parents with a variety of educational choices, including local brick and mortar schools, charter schools, distance delivery, correspondence programs, and student living centers.

In addition, some local school districts have begun to open their correspondence programs to every student in the state. Where once a child seeking correspondence education had only one choice - ACS, they now have nearly a dozen programs from which to choose. Competition among the programs has helped them improve the services offered and attracted overwhelming numbers of students. There are nearly 8,000 students enrolled in statewide correspondence programs run by Chugach, Copper River, Craig, Delta/Greely, Denali, Galena, Iditarod, Mat-Su, Nenana, Tanana and Yukon/Koyukok school districts.

The state has encouraged local school districts to continue to grow their correspondence schools and compete for students. To do this on one hand, and have the state run its own program on the other, is counterproductive and duplicative. Instead, the state should terminate ACS, share the resources developed through ACS to districts outside Juneau to better serve the students of Alaska. By closing ACS we intend to do just that.

To the extent allowed by copyright law, we will make the curriculum offered at ACS available to all districts to use in their correspondence programs. We will work with local school districts to help develop programs that meet the needs of the students at ACS. Finally, we will work with parents and students to help identify the best option for their education needs.

The primary argument used by those opposing the closure of ACS is that the program offered is unique. This is no longer the case. The programs offered outside Juneau show a great promise. Our local school districts already have created innovative programs that have expanded the opportunities available to Alaska's students. By competing with one another for students they will develop a variety of courses and curricula that will greatly improve learning opportunities for those Alaska students who use the correspondence program.

In conclusion, the governor's approach avoids duplication and supports competition among participating districts to improve the program for those Alaskans who use this service.

Jim Clark serves as Gov. Murkowski's chief of staff.

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