Despite almost two decades of working in rural Alaska schools, Iditarod School District Superintendent Scott Ballard still wasn't prepared when his daughter decided that she wanted to attend Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka.
“Those are some of the most important years,” Ballard said from McGrath, a village of about 400 located 200 miles northwest of Anchorage. “You certainly don't want to not be able to have that close family bond when they're in high school.”
Ballard's predicament is one many parents living in rural Alaska face. Legal rulings in the 1970s mandated high schools in tiny, off-the-road villages across the state. Before then, high school students had two choices: Stay in their village home, surrounded by family and a familiar culture, or leave to attend four years of boarding school.
While the Tobeluk Consent Decree, also known as the Molly Hootch Act, made it possible to establish high schools in off-the-road villages, those schools have struggled to keep up with their on-the-road counterparts. Some parents, like Ballard, watch their children leave home for Mt. Edgecumbe -- a state-run residential high school with about 400 students from across the state -- or move to Anchorage or Fairbanks to pursue educational opportunities unavailable at village schools. ...