Kipnuk students back in classes after three weeks of home study

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For 16 days in November, students at Chief Paul Memorial School in Kipnuk stayed home from school and studied remotely. But on Nov. 18, in-person learning resumed as teachers returned to Kipnuk.

The village traditional tribal council formally banished the school’s longtime principal at the end of October. Principal LaDorothy Lightfoot and several teachers left with her on planes chartered by the Lower Kuskokwim School District. It’s unclear how many of those teachers have returned. There appear to be about 200 enrolled students in the school, where Lightfoot had been for several years.

Chief Paul Memorial School is not a high-performing school. The building, however, is newly constructed in 2014, as one of the rural schools that were part of the Kasayulie v. Alaska settlement that provided new schools across rural Alaska, where many schools were substandard and in places with no tax base to pay for school construction.

Among all grades at the Chief Paul, a K-12 school, fewer than 5% of the students scored “advanced or proficient” in English Language Arts, and fewer than 5% scored “advanced or proficient” in Math. 95% of the students scored “approaching proficiency/needs support” in these core areas on the Alaska System of Academic Readiness (AKSTAR) tests, which are given to students statewide. The graduation rate, however, is 100%.

Lightfoot is still listed as the site administrator for the Chief Paul Memorial School, which is part of the Lower Kuskokwim School District, but she is no longer in the village and the district is not disclosing if she is still on payroll. After being open just four days for in-person classes this month, the school is closed for the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but classes are expected to resume on Monday.

22 COMMENTS

  1. That means all its former graduates graduated based on attendance participation. Sad for the now adults who most are and will experince homelessness; as well as totally embarrassing for the teachers. They don’t realize the students reflect the teachers.the teachers are reviewd by public opinion by how many students are proficent. C’mon! Don’t make anymore excuses ‘but but but the fault lies on the parents and home life- sob sob not on us’
    . The ak teacher must get off that sob soapbox and be accountable and be smart like their hanging college diploma shows else throw it away.
    . the teachers went to college, they should be smarter than parents without college to know how to advance the most challenging child, if the adults ak hired as teachers knew how to love and those adults had integrity-energy-intelligence. Anyway! Ak still must read to their kids even on thanksgiving, and Don’t forget to purchase your Must Read Alaska sweatshirt or tshirt for encouraging other alaskans to read aloud to kids around. Now i go to return reading
    my book ‘what the bible says about….child training’

    • Before the unfair standardized test Jen, everyone graduated based on attendance including myself. It’s pretty unfair of you to criticize students lack of performance on a standardized test that was meant for students in the lower 48 and for that test to set a benchmark for Alaska native students. But keep on speaking your ignorance is always amusing.

      • Standardized tests are not part of graduation. They are used to score the ability of the school. Before the “unfair” tests graduation was based on your individual grades, just as it is today.
        The tests are a benchmark. Each year you are in school you are supposed to learn a predetermined amount of knowledge. By the 4th grade, you should be able to read at the 4th-grade level. IF you can not, there is ZERO effect on your personal grade. The effect is a grade on the school. In this case, we see that the SCHOOL is failing the students.

  2. I’m not sure I agree with the issues present by the community in this case But, if on the other hand, a school in the Matsu was viewed to have violated community norms what would the public reaction be?

  3. The Lower Kuskokwim School District administrators and teachers in Kipnuk are well aware that these students have academic skills significantly below Alaska state standards *and* significantly below the expectations of future employers and society in general. There is no good reason to give high school diplomas to students who cannot read, write, and do math to minimum standards. Social promotions and the issuing of unearned high school diplomas probably results in continued employment for teachers and administrators at LKSD. I suspect this is precisely why incredibly bad decisions and practices continue there. If it were up to me, LaDorothy Lightfoot would have been fired years ago.

    I was hired to teach summer school at a school district, worse than LKSD, in that general area. The high school test scores were extremely low and the state of Alaska hoped to remedy the problems with summer school instruction. Soon after I arrived at the school district comprised of three villages, I discovered myriad problems that went way beyond poor instruction, low test scores, and the unlicensed, unqualified, and over-compensated “superintendent”. It appeared to me that most regular teachers failed to do the jobs for which they were hired and paid. And these teachers, who were mandatory reporters, failed to do this, too. I was alarmed to find a 16 year old girl in the 7th grade and in the late stages of her third pregnancy. A new school was under construction and several men from the MatSu Valley were there to build it. Fortunately, they slept in the school and were able to intercept several students who expected incorrectly to engage, unencumbered, in some serious damage inside. Incidentally, the only “problem” I observed in the existing (old) school building was the result of students throwing rocks through the windows and urinating on the wall-to-wall carpeting. I can’t imagine things are any better in the new, expensive school building that local property tax assessments did not fund.

    The problems with public school education in Alaska go well beyond the construction of unnecessary (new) school and administrative buildings, retention of ineffective teachers and administrators, failure to report repeated sexual abuse of minors, and awarding of unearned high school diplomas. However, there appears to be nobody in Alaska who is willing to undertake the systemic changes that are absolutely required. Mike Dunleavy is uninterested. And EED Commissioner Heidi Teshner is clueless. So, here we are and this is where we will continue to be.

    • Public Ed in Ak is Doomed!
      Sir, I have supervised construction of Schools across Alaska in both Rural and Urban communities. Sadly I agree with your report given above. We spend something like $850,000 per student between K through 12, in rural areas and what have gotten for that investment?

    • Really appreciate your sharing 1st hand experiences in rural public schools. Alaska public education is systematically dysfunctional. The system is impervious to meaningful correction to function in a manner that consistently produces minimally educated adults. Administrators and teachers are largely incompetent, with the rare exception. There is no political will to alter course, as an illiterate public is malleable and is passively oblivious and compliant to generational exploitation by the elite class. Rural Alaska residents are specifically targeted to insure perpetual dependance on and control and power by the state over individual prosperity. The $800k to $1 mil cost per student goes to the academic failures with garbage education degrees from our failed university system masquerading as “educators”, there is no value or material benefit to the student. It was just a couple of generations past our great and grandparents were subjected to wholsale physical rape in the boarding schools. The human and societal damage this abhorent sexual abuse of children caused remains a massive problem in rural areas to this day. Dunleavy is no better than Murkowski or Peltola, they were all pre selected and “elected” through ballot (not legitimate vote) counting, to continue the utterly corrupt special interest and state union control of Alaska.

      • The settlers typically approached Alaska directionally from the south of Alaska. Culture impacts began there and culture decimation there is most profound. It is also where philanthropy and western education historically first began in Alaska. The churches vied competitively with each other to provide educational options to village parents. The parents decided which schools were built and where. The foreign settlers sometimes had the best of intentions and had high hopes and great respect for morals and family. My great grandfather was descended from the founders of America. Another was excited about developing a new land and wanted to assist and brought cattle. It wasn’t all bad in the beginning and anyone who says it was is lying and or ignorant and attempting to manipulate Alaskan history to fit a recent UofA agenda. That’s my history lesson to you.

    • Another do-gooder from the outside who doesn’t truly appreciate native culture or the way that native kids in Alaska are raised. Surely you must realize that a native Alaskan or any kid for that matter whose synopsis are not challenged and developed as an infant and beyond are not going to perform as well on a standardized test that is designed for students who have been raised with all the triggers and stimulation of the outside world in the lower 48 states. Surely you’re not. And if you are then shame on you you’re just a blabbermouth.

  4. I used to know some administrators and teachers in the southwest region School district that were not incompetent and they weren’t rare either. I saw some good teachers in Gamble as well stop being so judgmental I’m trying to love Alaska native kids in the same basket as kids in some ivy League charter School. It’s not even apples and oranges, but more like apples and eggplant. The Alaska native kids are doing just fine by

        • Greg,
          Your flippant dismissal of Native kids and their lack of access to a viable education in favor of self serving public education departments is telling. I have 14 Native grandchildren, mostly in rural schools. This is serious what is happening. UAF has a dismal record too with indocrinating youth instead of providing higher level education. The issue is deflected by claiming the prohibitive costs are somehow an unearned benefit to “Natives”. No, its wealth transfer to primarily white, liberal, illiterates with teaching “certificates” who themselves are more ignorant than peasants from the Middle Ages, the school district administrators and their service contractors.

    • Greg, education is a way to open doors for the future of these kids. If those doors are not opened then the kids will have fewer opportunities. The conversation should not be about comparison, it should be about how to improve a system that is not doing what it is designed to do.

  5. So many factors to consider, but I will take a moment to consider the comments about social promotion. For about ten years our state had high school graduation qualifying exam (HSGQE). It tested students on junior high level math and language, and kids who could not pass it got a certificate of attendance, instead of a diploma. There were alternative assessments for kids with special needs students. Gradually, the exam got easier and easier. Eventually, the state repealed it, and retroactively awarded diplomas to the students who had failed to pass the tests.
    As a long time teacher, I wanted very much to keep on expecting 8th grade level math and language capability as a requirement for a diploma, but it wasn’t my decision.
    Those who agree with me on this should actively campaign for returning some version of the HSGQE. Just be ready for the backlash, which was huge before and would be again.

  6. So many factors to consider, but I will take a moment to consider the comments about social promotion. For about ten years our state had high school graduation qualifying exam (HSGQE). It tested students on junior high level math and language, and kids who could not pass it got a certificate of attendance, instead of a diploma. There were alternative assessments for kids with special needs. Gradually, the exam got easier and easier. Eventually, the state repealed it, and retroactively awarded diplomas to the students who had failed to pass the tests.
    As a long time teacher, I wanted very much to keep on expecting 8th grade level math and language capability as a requirement for a diploma, but it wasn’t my decision.
    Those who agree with me on this should actively campaign for returning some version of the HSGQE. Just be ready for the backlash, which was huge before and would be again.

    • What’s your agenda then? Perhaps you want a bunch of 21-year-old freshman in your English class. Perhaps you’re trying to limit the amount of kids eligible to play basketball. Maybe you’re trying to increase the dropout right. Out of sight out of mind right? There are reasons why the equivalency test was discontinued. I would suggest you bone up on those and get back to us.

      • The highly compensated and incompetent administrators who run the failed Alaska public school system cannot tolerate quality control. The results of the testing of students reflects badly on the so called professional “educators” who have no clue on how to design and operate an educational system which results in students prepared for university. The universities themselves have been churning out “teachers” with diplomas as useless as the system we have foisted on us. The costs of this public “service” is astronomical, and our youth would be better served to contract education out to private educators who are competent. Our youth is being sacrificed to subsidize state unions and petty officials, heavy on ego and ignorance but oblivious of intelect and education.

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