School & District Management

Alaska Keeps One-Room Schoolhouse Tradition Alive

By Christina A. Samuels — May 26, 2011 1 min read
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So much attention is paid to the big school districts that this Weekly Standard article taking a peek at the 161-student Southeast Island School District is a refreshing change. From the article:

The Southeast Island School District in remote Alaska is a tad different from yours and mine. Take the case of Garrick Obern-dorfer, who commutes to the Thorne Bay school over a half mile of ocean in a 15-foot skiff, a bit tricky in the pitch dark or in four-foot waves. Garrick is 15. On the opening day of trapping season—think mink, otter and ermine—scads of students skip school (as do some teachers) to run their trap lines. No worries. It's a perfectly legit excuse to be late to school if you kill a deer en route and stop to dress it.

The article offers an intriguing look at schooling in remote locations (but are there really no cliques and bullying there, as the author suggests? No problems with underage drug or alcohol use at all?)

The conservative magazine also gives a critique of education policies that it believes hampers the success of Southeast Island School District and schools like it. For example, extra state aid is directed towards schools that are struggling, but the student results in the tiny district are so strong that “teachers here joke that the only way to keep their district on the right financial track is to insist that students put down the wrong answers on statewide tests,” the author contends.

Another zinger:

[The] district—with its modest $5.5 million budget—is testimony to the fact that schools can be quite successful without throwing money at them. Bureaucrats in the nation's capital ought to take note. The Department of Education and the National Education Association might learn a bit about quality schools by looking at the good things that happen when students, parents, teachers, and a whole community get behind every school.

All those ingredients can lead to success, but the challenge may be getting a community behind a school when the community is 1,000 times the size of this one small district.

What do you think? Are there lessons we can import from the frontier to schools in the Lower 48?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.