Yukon-Kuskokwin District opens correspondence school

Posted: Tuesday, August 20, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Yukon-Koyukuk School District is launching a statewide correspondence program -- Raven Correspondence School -- in an effort to keep its students.

''Our enrollment was going down so much due to boarding homes and losing our kids to other statewide correspondence schools. This is our reaction to it,'' Superintendent Chris Simon told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''We wanted our kids enrolled in our district.''

The district, which serves communities along the Yukon and Koyukuk rivers, has averaged about 520 to 550 students over the last 10 years. But Simon said this year the district is projecting 450 students.

The Raven Correspondence School program will offer parents in the Yukon and Koyukuk river villages the district serves another schooling option for their children without leaving the district, Simon said.

This is not the district's first foray into correspondence education, Simon said. The district used to run the Northwind correspondence program until it was cut due to budget constraints in the mid 1990s.

''We would at least like to go back to the enrollment we had before Northwind was closed,'' Simon said.

Simon and Raven principal Thomas Klever are no strangers to such programs either. Both worked for Nenana's correspondence school, Cyberlynx, Klever as principal and Simon as assistant principal.

In many ways, Raven will resemble programs like Cyberlynx and the Galena City School District's Interior Distance Education of Alaska, Klever said.

Families will receive yearly stipends -- $1,400 to $1,600 per year depending on their student's grade level -- to purchase curricula, materials, lessons and other supplies from vendors approved by the school board.

In addition, the district will pay for $38 per month of the cost of leasing a computer and $20 per month toward Internet access. Parents teach their children at home and a certified teacher monitors student progress.

Simon said the district is entering a competitive market.

''On the average, statewide, there is like 9,500 kids in correspondence schools and that is pretty stable over the years,'' he said. ''When we get a student another correspondence school loses a student.''

In addition to winning back some lost students, Simon said Raven Correspondence School will also allow the district to provide a schooling option in communities that have too few students to have a traditional school.

Both Wiseman and Bettles are in danger of falling below the state's 10-student minimum for a traditional school, he said.

''They are definitely in our district and we want to take care of their children,'' Simon said. ''We would at least make monthly contact with them to make sure they were doing their work and provide them with any assistance they need.''

Thus far the school has enrolled about 200 students, many from within the district's attendance boundaries, Simon said. They will continue to enroll students through the end of September, he said.

They need about 280 to break even financially, he said. ''We'll make it.''

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