Shopping for a new "home" district

This is the new version of the Alaska Teacher Placement (ATP) forum for teachers, education majors, and school administrators to discuss working and living in the state of Alaska. Those considering an Alaskan job, or considering a new Alaskan education job ask questions, and those with information and/or opinions provide answers. Although many users are teacher or principal candidates from the Lower 48, a large number of current and former school district HR and school administrators subscribe.

Moderators: Johncn, Damon Hargraves, Betty Walters, Toni McFadden

Shopping for a new "home" district

Postby micropedes1 » Sun Jan 08, 2017 8:34 pm

We (wife and I) have never taught in Alaska, but are considering the possibility. We actually prefer to teach in a rural district. This looks to be a decent venue for reaching as many HR as possible with a single note. Then follow-up with interested districts. I understand that hiring husband/wife teachers can be difficult as sometimes the "right" openings just do not exist. But most districts will be looking to fill openings for the upcoming school year within the next few weeks, so starting early is imperative. Both highly qualified. She: elementary and special ed. Me: secondary math and science.

By the way, I already have 10 summers of experience in the Alaskan bush. And I fly my own plane (fewer headaches with supplies)
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Re: Shopping for a new "home" district

Postby Johncn » Wed Jan 11, 2017 6:05 am

Hello,

I don't see a specific question in your post, but it sounds like the two of you have complementary skills and certifications, and having your own plane certainly helps. You also seem to have a good basic game plan for your job search. Happy hunting!

Regards,

John
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Re: Shopping for a new "home" district

Postby micropedes1 » Wed Jan 11, 2017 1:57 pm

Thank you, John. I have traveled more of the state of Alaska than some of the natives, most of it in the bush. So, I am quite familiar with needs (and most of the restrictions) in rural districts.

I would, however, appreciate more information on Alaskan curriculum standards just so that I can be well-prepared when I settle-in with my students. For example, some of the districts that I have contacted utilize internet- based instruction. While this is necessary considering the widespread nature of most districts, it can lead to gaps in what the students master. Is there a standards-based competency test adopted for secondary students?

Also, I have seen that the village elders work closely with most rural districts to impart important cultural heritages to the upcoming generation. Although my outdoor skills are considered adequate, I worry that I may lack the necessary skills to do things the way that the elders teach. Scholastic instruction does not always mesh with practical application.
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Re: Shopping for a new "home" district

Postby Johncn » Thu Jan 12, 2017 5:13 am

Hello,

It certainly sounds like you have had some experience in the Bush, but don't presume to know too much when interviewing. There are many different regions and cultures in rural Alaska. Districts and villages may look somewhat alike on the surface, but there are definite differences that you will discover when actually living in those places. Alaska is a very large, surprisingly diverse state.

Although there are some districts and villages where village elders work closely with the school district to teach traditional knowledge and cultural aspects, including hunting, trapping, harvesting of natural resources and so on, I don't think this is something that most teachers are expected or able to do. Most districts put more emphasis on teacher skills and experiences that will focus on academic instruction for their students. Outdoor skills might be of interest in some specific schools or locations, but they are going to be looking at you primarily as a teacher candidate in the traditional sense. Having diverse interests and skills that you can leverage to engage students, or make connections with traditional knowledge is always a bonus, though.

There used to be a competency-based "Exit Exam" for secondary students, but it was repealed a couple of years ago.

The Alaska Department of Education has standards that are essentially a slightly customized offshoot of the Common Core standards in the core areas. There are standards in other areas, as well, but the recent standards emphasis - with a new commissioner and new statewide testing program being constructed for this spring by a new vendor - is not yet clear to me. I'd visit the state's Alaska Standards site for more info as things develop. Each district will have it's own curriculum, as there is no statewide curriculum adoption or textbook list.

Alaska Standards - Alaska Department of Education
https://education.alaska.gov/akstandards/

You also may want to visit the ATP page we update fairly often about some of the recent changes here:

Alaska Teacher Placement - Teaching in Alaska
http://alaskateacher.org/teaching_in_alaska.php

Hope this helps.

Regards,

John
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Re: Shopping for a new "home" district

Postby jstomac » Thu Feb 23, 2017 8:03 pm

Don't move everything just yet.
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Re: Shopping for a new "home" district

Postby jstomac » Thu Feb 23, 2017 8:04 pm

If you're moving up here for higher pay and the dividend you're moving for the wrong reason. If you think the admin and school districts are messed up down there you have no idea what you're in for.
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Re: Shopping for a new "home" district

Postby micropedes1 » Fri Feb 24, 2017 6:14 am

I currently have a mining operation in Alaska. So, I am really looking for something to occupy my time during the winter months. Being a highly qualified and experienced teacher, it is only logical to teach there (and avoid the LONG commute to the lower 48). After sleeping in a tent all summer and fighting off the small grizzlies, sleeping in a real bed, even in a "bush" school will be a real treat.

Now for the questions:
1. When does the school year start and end?.
2. I fly my own plane. Do most communities that are large enough to need high school teachers also have a decent airstrip? (3000 feet or better)
3. Having never worked in a school system that had a teacher's "union", I am a bit apprehensive of working where there are negotiated agreements that seem to cover every contingency. Must I join?
4. This is going to ruffle some feathers. I have hired some young workers whose only interest was to earn enough money for a plane ticket to fly out to civilization. And there were yet others that were content to stay put and live on their dividend check. And still others that were hard-working individuals trying to support their families. How does one deal with the backwoods complacency of students that see no value in an education?
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Re: Shopping for a new "home" district

Postby micropedes1 » Fri Feb 24, 2017 6:16 am

By the way, that "higher pay" just barely covers my annual fuel bill. Its expensive enough on the road system. But get out far enough that it must be barged or flown-in and you will see some ridiculous prices!
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Re: Shopping for a new "home" district

Postby jamieburgess » Fri Feb 24, 2017 1:23 pm

Hi Micropedes -

1. When does the school year start and end?

Most bush districts start in mid-August and finish around Memorial Day. Many districts have their calendars available on their website - that should give you a feel for not only start/end dates, but also breaks and holidays.

2. I fly my own plane. Do most communities that are large enough to need high school teachers also have a decent airstrip? (3000 feet or better)

Yes, most villages do have a fairly well-maintained airstrip, since that's the only way to get mail and supplies in/out. Depending on location, a lot of folks use snowmachines, ATVs and regular vehicles to get around as well. Your villages are usually somewhat close to a hub - that's probably where you'll want to fuel/repair your plane, and meet the other pilots.

3. Having never worked in a school system that had a teacher's "union", I am a bit apprehensive of working where there are negotiated agreements that seem to cover every contingency. Must I join?

Alaska is a very strong union state (I'm originally from Arizona where unions have little power and moderate influence) and you will be required to join the union. The negotiated agreements are to protect both the teachers and the administration.

4. This is going to ruffle some feathers. I have hired some young workers whose only interest was to earn enough money for a plane ticket to fly out to civilization. And there were yet others that were content to stay put and live on their dividend check. And still others that were hard-working individuals trying to support their families. How does one deal with the backwoods complacency of students that see no value in an education?

Even in small bush villages, you will find some students who enjoy school, and some who do not. For many native communities, the history of the boarding schools and the overt or ignorant oppression of the native languages and cultures is still a painful one. For some, school itself is still a painful subject, and you are correct that some students and even entire communities often do not see how a "Western" education benefits their way of life. For many students, leaving the community (which is the only way to attend college or get some types of job training) is very challenging, and so motivation to do anything in school beyond the minimum to graduate is lacking. However, don't paint everyone with too broad a brush. I have met many well-educated and articulate folks here who are striving to find a balance between their cultural heritage and an increasingly Westernized bush Alaska. To be a successful bush teacher, you'll need to find ways to connect what's happening in your class with your student's needs, culture, environment and their dreams for the future.

Best of luck in your job search!
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Re: Shopping for a new "home" district

Postby Bushteachers » Fri Feb 24, 2017 4:00 pm

micropedes1 wrote:Now for the questions:
1. When does the school year start and end?.
2. I fly my own plane. Do most communities that are large enough to need high school teachers also have a decent airstrip? (3000 feet or better)
3. Having never worked in a school system that had a teacher's "union", I am a bit apprehensive of working where there are negotiated agreements that seem to cover every contingency. Must I join?
4. This is going to ruffle some feathers. I have hired some young workers whose only interest was to earn enough money for a plane ticket to fly out to civilization. And there were yet others that were content to stay put and live on their dividend check. And still others that were hard-working individuals trying to support their families. How does one deal with the backwoods complacency of students that see no value in an education?


1. Every school district is different, but plan on an August start and sometime in May end time.

2. Have you not been in the bush? I think you know this answer if you are real.

3. Depends on the district. I believe there are only two districts in the state that require membership in their union (Iditarod and one other). I could be wrong, but my current district does not require union membership.

4. One must determine what is the value of an education. IS there a value in an education that really doesn't support a culture? or should we be focusing on place based education that would be meaningful? I believe this is why so many bush districts place an emphasis on those cultural standards as well as CTE. Not all learnng takes place in a text book.
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Re: Shopping for a new "home" district

Postby Johncn » Sat Feb 25, 2017 7:11 am

Now for the questions:
1. When does the school year start and end?.
2. I fly my own plane. Do most communities that are large enough to need high school teachers also have a decent airstrip? (3000 feet or better)
3. Having never worked in a school system that had a teacher's "union", I am a bit apprehensive of working where there are negotiated agreements that seem to cover every contingency. Must I join?
4. This is going to ruffle some feathers.


Hello,

Both Jamie and Bushteachers provide some good general info.

1. You can get every district / school's school calendar for the current year (and prior) here at Alaska EED's site:

https://education.alaska.gov/DOE_Rolode ... lCalendar/

2. In general, yes....but don't expect more than tie downs unless you are in a hub. Nearly all villages big enough for a school are serviced by Caravans and Navajos or similar twins. Carry extra spikes and rope for when you first get there, but most communities would help you set up a more permanent tie down solution if they were short of them. I've seen barrels filled with concrete and buried to provide good anchors on strips in the Aleutians when we lived out there. I think most pilots know how to get this information from their charts, and charting or weather sites.

However, for quick reference, here is a site that has pictures and details (length, heading, elevation) for nearly all Alaska village runways by map and airport code:

https://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/he ... rpt_photo/

3. I agree with Bushteachers that districts we have worked for did not require union membership. However, some districts may deduct annual union dues out of all teacher's pay. It depends on district, but actual membership is not required. We never joined, but had dues deducted and were "represented" as a class of employee by the union. Each district does have their bargaining unit / union, and negotiates for salary and benefits every few years. Search "Alaska school district negotiated agreement .pdf" to find lots to view. All of the districts we worked for had pretty good relationships with administration. Negotiations lasted a day or two in nearly all cases.

4. Not really any different than any other Low SES place in America...be it inner city, Indian reservations or rural Alaska. Have to find connections as Bushteacher and Jamie both say. Place based education is the way to go if you can make it work with your district's curriculum. Connecting with kids by making academic subjects relevant through practical applications and experiences is something that should be easy for someone with a mining claim and ten years of seasonal Bush experience.

Hope this helps,

John
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