Question about teaching in rural AK with young kids

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Question about teaching in rural AK with young kids

Postby robfamily6 » Tue Jan 20, 2015 7:16 am

My wife and I are both certified out of state, and are going through the process of applying for AK certification. We have registered for the Anchorage job fair and are planning to attend. We are seeking employment as a teaching couple, and we feel like our certifications and experience will help us, especially in bush areas. My wife is certified in foreign language, but has a lot of experience teaching English to non English speakers. We have both lived and served in rural village areas of South and Central America in the past, so adapting to different culture is nothing new for us, as we have a passion for it.

Here's where we are and the biggest issue we are trying to figure out, so any input or advice from some of you experienced teachers in AK is welcome...

We have four kids, three of which would be considered "school age", ranging from K - 2nd grade. Our fourth will probably be right on the line of being a little too young for PreK next year. I have researched several districts and schools that have Pre-K programs, and others who start at kindergarten. Does anyone have experience with any of the Pre-K programs in some of the rural areas? We are focusing on teaching in the bush, as we would like to have our kids at the same school/building we are in. As for housing, we would obviously have to find a district that was able to lease a 3 bedroom to us.

Right now, I see two possible scenarios... The first being that we are able to find a district/school that would allow our youngest to go to the Pre-K program, even if it's a year early. The second would be one of us staying home with her for a year, but still being able to meet a need in the school in some capacity. The following year, the hope would be we would both be teaching.

Just throwing that our there for anyone who has taught in the bush with younger kids. We are excited about it and looking forward to the job fair. We're just trying to figure out the best way to work this first year out, or even how to approach this with potential employers.

Thanks
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Re: Question about teaching in rural AK with young kids

Postby Johncn » Thu Jan 22, 2015 6:36 am

We have four kids, three of which would be considered "school age", ranging from K - 2nd grade. Our fourth will probably be right on the line of being a little too young for PreK next year. I have researched several districts and schools that have Pre-K programs, and others who start at kindergarten. Does anyone have experience with any of the Pre-K programs in some of the rural areas? We are focusing on teaching in the bush, as we would like to have our kids at the same school/building we are in. As for housing, we would obviously have to find a district that was able to lease a 3 bedroom to us.


Hello,

I'm pretty sure someone else can post a more concrete guide to Pre-K education in Alaska than I can. Pre-kindergarten / pre-school funding in Alaska is a fuzzy thing that has been accurately described as a patchwork quilt.

Some have actual pre-school programs where the kids are with Alaska certified teachers endorsed for Pre-K / Early Childhood Education (ECE). However, some have partnerships with the Head Start Program - a federally funded program through DHSS that provides comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families. Most of "rural" is "poor", so most Rural Alaska villages have Head Start programs that are run through the local Alaska Native Tribal entity. Those entities vary by region of Alaska, and vary in their style of implementation - program philosophy, curriculum, level of training for staff members. In general, the Head Start Program does not require certified educators, and provides training for para-professionals from the villages in the region in order to staff their programs. The names are different in each region. Some use their own buildings, some lease space, some are located within the K-12 school building, but not funded by the school district. Here is a list of Head Start programs by affiliation and name, and links to more detailed information about the villages they serve:

Alaska Head Start Programs
http://akheadstart.org/programs.html

Now, here is where it gets tricky. Some districts do have a state-funded Pre-kindergarten programs in some of their village schools, and Head Start Programs in others in the same school district. Those programs may or may not be physically located in the school. Furthermore, eligibility varies. Where Alaska school district Pre-kindergarten programs accept anyone, there is a funding-based cap on the number of students served in some villages. And although teachers kids would be considered "poor", they can be served by the local Head Start if there is room. This means some villages with large pre-school age populations have waiting lists. Some teachers would prefer a certified teacher, but others may value their ability to include their child in Head Start in some villages. It just varies by teacher, and also by program. If the school you are considering working at does not have a PK program, I'd ask the district if teachers in that community have been happy using Head Start services.

So, you may ask, what's a teacher with young children to do when looking for village to live and work in that DOES have Pre-Kindergarten program with a certified teacher? It's difficult, but not impossible, to get an idea of which school district villages have a Pre-K program. First of all, there was a state "Pilot Program" for six districts in 2009. Of these districts, two were road system (Anchorage / Juneau), and four were rural: Nome, Bering Strait (BSSD), Lower Kuskokwim (LKSD), and Yukon-Koyukuk (YKSD. The results were very positive, and there is an annual scramble for funds under a competitive grant called the Alaska Pre-Kindergarten Program run by EED. Many of these districts view Pre-K as essential, and now use either state foundation funding dollars, or "Moore" funding to keep a programs going.

An education equity suit against the state commonly known as the Moore Case was settled in 2012. Part of the settlement mandated that Alaska fund "two-year kindergarten" in the 40 rural communities with the lowest scoring test results. Those are "Moore" funded Pre-K programs, essentially, and change from year-to-year. State funding for kindergarten has gone from "not at all" at statehood, to an early-entry statute that allowed children under five to attend kindergarten if they are prepared to enter into first grade the next year. At one time many districts used the early-entry provision to obtain funding for four-year olds as a "two-year kindergarten program". This was, in essence, an unofficial pre-school program that many rural Alaska districts took advantage of because they could. Then, in 2003, EED issued a clarification that the early-entry provision was only for four-year-olds ready to begin public school, and the additional funding was eliminated. Now, there is case-by-case "early entry" exemption that varies by district, but is not widely used (see below).

Sadly, there is NOT a comprehensive list of programs by village or district. I've looked in other years to answer this question, and checked again today. It's hunt and seek. To check if the villages you are considering have a Pre-K program (run by the school district) simply check the Alaska EED Public Schools Database by District, and drill down to the school information for each village. It will specify the "lowest grade" served, and show the school year the data was collected for...typically the previous school year:

Alaska Public Schools Database
http://education.alaska.gov/DOE_Rolodex/SchoolCalendar/Home/Districts

Choose district you want to check:

Image

Click on the village school you want to check:

Image

Check the "lowest grade" information (K = Kindergarten, PK = Pre-Kindergarten):

Image

School age in Alaska is another issue to be wary of your sources on. Kindergarten is not within the age of mandatory attendance:

http://education.alaska.gov/faq.html#A1

Alaska state law guarantees a tuition-free education through twelfth grade to all children between the ages of 6 and 20. The law also requires children to attend school between the ages of 7 and 16, and may require attendance beginning at age 6 if a child has been enrolled in first grade at a public school for more than 60 days.


Some widely cited sources say that Kindergarten students must turn five (5) by August 15. Despite that being written into Alaska Statute, the Alaska Department of Education issues an eligibility cutoff of "five before September 1". The age and date cutoff recognized by every school district I checked with mirrors this, and is five years old by September 1....because that is the age that state funding specifies. ;-)

Here is the actual statute from the State of Alaska website:

AS 14.03.080. Right to attend school
http://tinyurl.com/kphojch

This defines Kindergarten age as follows:

"(d) A child who is five years of age before August 15 following the beginning of the school year, and who is under school age, may enter a public school kindergarten."

Alaska EED uses the September 1 date, I believe, because of the unduly convoluted wording of the sentence, "following the beginning of the school year". School in Alaska does not usually start prior to the August 15 date. So, in the EED OASIS (school funding formula) training sessions for the current school year, the program manager says:

Image

Also, some (but not all) school districts allow students younger than the Kindergarten cutoff to enter school, but only if they demonstrate "readiness" to enter 1st grade the year after. In other words, a district school board approves a rubric / testing process for determining which students who would normally be too young may qualify for "early entry". It is in their policy, but approved by the state funding agency in Juneau. This can be somewhat different by district, and can also have political implications in some communities. Children of teachers are often further ahead of children in rural, poor communities, and therefore tend to be "over represented" in rural school district "early entry" stats. Make sure if you end up in a district with an early entry option that you tread lightly, and do everything by the book just in case it ever comes up at an AEC meeting. ;-)

Note that this tangled bundle of related issues serve as an ongoing source of debate in Alaska. The state has not even applied for most of the federal pre-kindergarten funding programs that have been started in recent years. There have been several pushes for optional, but universal eligibility and funding for Pre-K programs in Alaska by members of the legislature. If you would like to keep abreast of the developments and the debate this legislative session, here are some links:

http://www.alaskacommons.com/2015/01/08/house-democrats-renew-push-pre-k/

http://www.adn.com/article/20141016/alaska-must-stop-passing-early-childhood-education-funds

Hope this helps,

John
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Re: Question about teaching in rural AK with young kids

Postby robfamily6 » Sat Jan 24, 2015 7:06 am

Thanks John... great and thorough information, as usual. It looks like the different possibilities and scenarios are all over the place, which is kind of what I was thinking. That's great info about the Pilot program, as some of those districts are on our radar as a preference, such as the Bering Strait. I feel like we won't have a good feel for what our options may be until we are sitting down with a particular district/school interviewing. I feel like if a school or district is interested in us enough, especially given the fact we are a teaching couple with kids who will add to the school, we will be able to come up with a solution.

I do have another question for you...

Do the principles of most bush schools attend the job fair and do the hiring? I know some Bush schools have a principal, some have principal/teachers, and some have lead teachers... so I was just curious about who actually does the hiring. I'm sure it will vary by district and school. I'm trying to get a sense of who to contact, even now, outside of the HR department, if we are interested in a particular district, village, or school.

Your input and information is extremely helpful, and my family really appreciates it!

Joe
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Re: Question about teaching in rural AK with young kids

Postby cyclone67 » Mon Jan 26, 2015 8:44 pm

From my experience HR will be there along with some others to help with interviews. I interviewed with someone from the district office, the HR director, and then talked the principal at the school on the phone. There was also a school board member at the fair i went to. Then once they determined I was a good fit at the school they offered the contract. If you are serious and ready to go you could have a contract at the fair. Just beware to that if you sit and think about signing you will get moved back in the pile. Hiring is hot and heavy, they will give your spot to someone who is ready to sign. A friend of mine was offered a contract the same day as I was but did not sign for a few weeks. In that time she lost the spot in the location she really wanted. And it is a tough decision to decide on which school! And believe me, it can make a big difference. Do your research on locations! If you are really set on a particular school and it gets offered then I would take it. Some slots are hard to come by! Good luck!
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Re: Question about teaching in rural AK with young kids

Postby lauren burch » Tue Feb 17, 2015 4:30 pm

Hi, You had a string of questions in there. I am new to this forum stuff and have no idea the protocol. I am with Southeast Island School District. Anyone 4 years old by sometime in late August can attend our kinder. Some schools run full day kinder, some do 5 hours or so. We have district housing modestly priced at most sites. Possible to do both on something less than full time each to give both another year of experience without one being home for the whole year. the thing that is complicated in small rural skills is the certifications of the couple. I heard foreign language for your wife and.....what else? What is your certification? The more narrow you both are the less likely going to work in a small school. Virtually impossible in my world unless one of the two is elementary certified or would be at two different sites. We have ten schools with between 10 and 70 students. we are deep deep in southeast Alaska on Prince of Wales Island. Lauren Burch 907 828-8254
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