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By Dan Rudy 

ANSEP committee looking for Native support

 

The special committee tasked with pursuing development of a residential high school in Wrangell is currently courting support from a major consortium of tribal villages in Interior Alaska. The school would be the first year-round residential facility to be operated under the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP), a supplementary learning program which earlier this fall opened its first full-time accelerated high school in the Matanuska-Susitna area. The program is part of the University of Alaska system, and was founded to improve enrollment numbers and hiring patterns for rural, predominately Native Alaskan students in science- and math-related career fields. With Wrangell looking at redeveloping 134 acres of its former Institute property, ANSEP has expressed interest in possibly locating a residential academy there. The proposed campus would house between 400 and 450 students from around the state, and would condense high school to a three-year timeline. After better acquainting itself with the program, in late July the Borough Assembly approved formation of a steering committee to observe ANSEP's Mat-Su school and pursue potential development of the new residential campus. Committee members include representatives of the city, public school system, and Wrangell Cooperative Association. Spearheaded by Wrangell schools superintendent Patrick Mayer, the committee has since obtained a memorandum of understanding with the city and WCA, and is looking for support for the project from the Alaska Federation of Natives, the state's largest Native organization. To that end, Mayer explained in a meeting Monday evening that since August he has been in contact with the Tanana Chiefs Conference, which is "a huge voting body" within the AFN. Their support would be critical to the project's success moving forward. In its correspondence with Mayer, TCC explained its board needed additional details on the proposed school's funding, whether the project had the support of the WCA, and whether other locations for such a facility had been considered. For funding, the ANSEP residential school project will at first be seeking support from private sources and grants. This may in time give the project stronger footing in applying for Capital Improvement Project funding through the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. The funds are expected to be hard to come by in light of the state's budget deficit. The full project could cost as much as $50,000,000. As for the support of the local Native community, in addition to the MOU finalized on December 6, WCA president Richard Oliver is drafting a letter to the TCC board of directors, explaining the Tribal Council's view on ANSEP and the opportunities it should provide. "This is a strong statement from our local tribe," Mayer commented on the draft. As for the proposed facility's location, Mayer cited the performance records of Wrangell Public Schools, land availability and infrastructure, the community's overall support for the development, its access to air and ferry service, and low crime rate. In a response sent November 16, TCC explained its board continued to have concerns with the plan. This included the size of the project, the problem of outmigration from Interior communities, the educational emphasis, and negative experiences related to the Wrangell Institute's history itself. It noted it could also make a compelling case to have a school situated in the Fairbanks area. Mayer and other members of the ANSEP steering committee were invited to address these concerns at the TCC board's scheduled meeting for November 28. He explained the meeting went alright, and that only a few of its 13 members seemed averse to the idea. They voted to table the item until the board's next meeting, scheduled for February. "Overall I think it was well-received," Mayer said. "I see them making a decision here at this next meeting." He took heart that the concept was tabled rather than voted down outright, and expected further conversations await. He noted TCC support would bolster Wrangell's case moving forward, but that a lack of support would not be "a deal-breaker" for the ANSEP project. In the meantime, he said he would continue working on the proposed school's residential application with DEED, which is a necessary step toward securing its Base Student Allocation. Asked his opinion on the project's progress, committee and WCA board member Ken Lewis replied he was pleased. "I absolutely think we're on the right track. There's definitely a lot of support locally." He was enthusiastic about the school's intended goals, and felt it would be a benefit to Alaskan youths wherever it may be located. "In my mind, the location doesn't matter as much," said Lewis.

 

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