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Education

Anchorage School District plans to open its first full-time career and technical high school

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: January 6
  • Published January 5

King Career Center (Sarah Bell / ADN archive)

The Anchorage School District plans to transform its Martin Luther King Jr. Career Center, currently a part-time career and technical education program where students can attend some classes, into a public high school where students can enroll full time.

The district hopes to rebrand the King Career Center, often called KCC, into the Martin Luther King Jr. Technical High School by this fall, according to a district memorandum that's on the agenda for the Anchorage School Board meeting Monday evening.

The School Board still must approve the name change and the state Department of Education and Early Development must approve the district's application to create a new school.

If they do, King Tech will become the Anchorage School District's first and only standalone career and technical high school that students can graduate from.

At a School Board meeting last month, ASD Superintendent Deena Bishop described it as a "new design to offer more opportunities to students."

Under the district's proposal, the school would enroll between 200 and 300 full-time juniors and seniors next school year, in addition to 800 to 900 part-time high school students.

The school would remain in the KCC building, just east of the intersection of East Northern Lights Boulevard and Lake Otis Parkway.

For the past 44 years, Anchorage students could opt to take classes at KCC and then go back to their "home" high school for core classes including math and science.

Currently, there are about 1,200 students who spend half their school day at KCC and the other half at an Anchorage high school, said Kersten Johnson-Struempler, the district's director of secondary education.

Under the proposal, students could take vocational classes as well as their core classes at King Tech, spending the whole day at the school instead of just part of the day. They could also earn a high school diploma from the school, Johnson-Struempler said.

Lou Pondolfino, principal of KCC and the district's director of career and technical education, was out of state Friday and not available for comment. Anchorage schools were still closed for winter break and will reopen Monday.

Bishop said last month that she expected shifting KCC to King Tech would generate roughly $1.2 million in additional revenue for the district. Once King Tech enrolls full-time students, it will be considered a school in the state's funding formula. Now, KCC is considered more of an alternative program.

Johnson-Struempler said vacant classrooms in the current KCC building could accommodate the additional core classes offered at King Tech. The district would have more teachers in the building to teach those classes.

The new school, she said, would provide students with flexible scheduling, and would also engage local businesses in students' training.

"We want to keep kids engaged in school and we also want to engage industry in our community," she said.

The school district also offers specific career and technical options at its high schools, like the Medical Academy at Bartlett High. Those will continue, according to Catherine Esary, school district spokeswoman.

Across the state, nearly every school district accepts federal funds to pay for some sort of career and technical education, once called vocational education, according to the state Education Department.

Nearly 33 percent of Alaska students in the 2015-16 school year had taken at least one career and technical education class, according to the latest available data from the Education Department. That was down from about 39 percent in 2012-13.

Johnson-Struempler said the district hopes to increase the number of full-time students at King Tech over time.

At the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, demand has remained strong for the Mat-Su Career and Technical High School, according to Trish Zugg, the district's program administrator for career and technical education

Bishop served as the superintendent at the Mat-Su district before she was chosen to run the Anchorage School District in 2016.

Zugg said the Mat-Su Career and Technical High School started in 2007, enrolling both full-time and part-time students. By the second year, it had to start a waiting list — there wasn't enough room for all of the students who wanted to enroll in the school full time, she said. There has been a wait list every year since.

There are currently about 650 full-time students at the school and 250 part-time students.

The Anchorage School Board is expected to vote on the King Tech proposal later this month.

In the meantime, the district is holding an informational night about the proposed transition at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 16 at KCC, 2650 E. Northern Lights Blvd. Students who want to enroll full-time in King Tech next year can apply now. Applications are available at KCC or on its website and due by Feb. 16, according to the district. Students must also sign up through the the district's lottery system.

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