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Alyeska jobs to stay in Juneau

Yukon-Koyukuk wins bid to run school, plans to keep 26 employees in town

Posted: Wednesday, November 26, 2003

The Yukon-Koyukuk School District on Tuesday was awarded operation of the state correspondence school as a charter school, starting in July.

The school districts in Juneau and Galena also had bid to run Alyeska Central School. The Juneau-based school has 26 employees and the equivalent of 525 full-time, state-funded students ranging from kindergarten through high school, and some students who pay tuition for one or two courses.

Yukon-Koyukuk officials couldn't be reached immediately for comment. But in their bid they said the district will keep the current staff in Juneau, and rent office and warehouse space here.

Keeping the jobs in Juneau was one of the reasons the Juneau School Board agreed to bid for Alyeska.

"We were interested in keeping the program in Juneau and we're glad it's going to stay in Juneau," said Bernie Sorenson, assistant superintendent of the Juneau School District.

The state Legislature voted this year to discontinue Alyeska, but gave it one fiscal year to be adopted by an Alaska school district. The state has run the school since 1939.

A committee of three Department of Education officials, the acting Alyeska director and the president of the Alyeska parent council met Monday to review the three proposals. They agreed unanimously on Yukon-Koyukuk.

Committee member Harry Gamble, spokesman for the Department of Education, said the group was "impressed with the enthusiasm of Yukon-Koyukuk, the clarity of the program, the commitment to children statewide, the commitment to retaining the strengths of Alyeska, plus the vision they had for improving the school."

Yukon-Koyukuk, a district of nine small schools west of Fairbanks, operates a 1,000-student statewide correspondence program called Raven. The program has academic centers in Juneau, Anchorage, Delta Junction, Fairbanks and Wasilla. In its bid, district officials said they will run Alyeska as a separate school.

The group of Alyeska parents and staffers who proposed running it as a charter school still must negotiate a contract, or charter, with Yukon-Koyukuk. That charter also must be approved by the state Board of Education.

Charter schools are public schools that have some autonomy from the parent school district. They set their own curriculum, hire staff, and usually are governed by a committee of parents and staff.

Parents and staff wanted the school to be a charter so it would retain its character as a correspondence program with lessons largely created and monitored by Alaska teachers.

Yukon-Koyukuk, in its bid, recognized that characteristic, saying most home-school programs in Alaska offer little or no contact between parents and teachers. Yukon-Koyukuk said it wanted to maintain that personalized service.

Juneau also said it would run Alyeska as a charter in substantially the same way it has been run in the past.

But Galena City School District, which operates the popular 3,700-student home-school program Interior Distance Education of Alaska, said Alyeska would become a correspondence branch of IDEA.

Courses would come from its teachers and other sources, and teachers would communicate with parents and students online. Teachers would work out of five regional centers. Alyeska's staff would be retained only if IDEA's current staff couldn't handle the work load, the bid said.

If the Alyeska committee and the Yukon-Koyukuk district can't agree on a charter, the state would award the bid to Juneau, the second choice, Gamble said.

Parents and teachers generally are pleased with the bid award to Yukon-Koyukuk, said acting director Dick Luther and parent council president Paula Williams.

"I have three boys in high school (at Alyeska)," Williams said. "I know the program is going to continue. I know they're going to graduate. I know there's going to be no interruption of services. That's a huge relief."

• Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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