Historical Status of Elementary Schools in Rural Alaskan
The following is an excerpt from Historical Status of Elementary Schools
Rural Alaskan Communities 1867-1980 by
Carol Barnhardt. It was originally published by the Center for
Cross-Cultural Studies in 1985. For information on ordering the book,
send an email message to the Alaska
Network. or call (907) 474-1902.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Summary of Major Educational Systems in
Chronological Summary of Major Educational
Legislation in Alaska
Explanation of Table Headings
Tables: Community/Date/Operating Agency/Source
SECTION III: MAP INDEX
Geographical Location of Communities
SECTION IV: BIBLIOGRAPHY
SECTION V: POST RESEARCH NOTES
Partial Listing of Established Communities Without
Listing of Unverified Geographical Communities
MAP (In Back Pocket)
SECTION I HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
This report presents information on the historical status and
geographical location of elementary schools in rural Alaskan
communities from 1867 to 1980.
Alaska's educational history is complex because of the dual
federal-territorial system of education established in 1905. After
Alaska became a state, both federal and state agencies compiled
statistical data about their own school systems, but there has been
no systematic attempt to integrate these data. The usefulness of one
composite document seems evident, and this report is the first
attempt to gather information from scattered sources and present it
in an organized, useful manner.
In 1979, a preliminary review copy of this report was distributed
to rural schools, school districts, Native corporations, church
organizations, and historical societies The responses received from
these groups indicate that the information in this document will be
informative and useful to a wide variety of private and public
individuals and groups. The draft copy has been used to examine the
effects of different operating agencies on schools and communities;
investigate population shifts; examine social and political decisions
relevant to education; serve as a guideline for updating the status
of elementary schools; and promote further research on the
establishment of urban schools and secondary schools.
Accompanying the review document was a request that the reader
verify, correct or add to the information presented. Responses were
received from 97 different schools or organizations and information
was gathered on 208 different communities. The information obtained
from these questionnaires contributed significantly to the
accurateness and completeness of the final report.
The primary purpose of this report is to present information about
the elementary schools in rural Alaska. Although it would be useful
to have information about all of the schools in Alaska in one
document, it was not feasible to do so. The reader should be aware
that there has been no attempt to include complete information for
schools in the following categories:
a. Secondary Schools
Since the research for this report was completed, there has been a
significant change in the educational systems in rural Alaska with
the establishment of small high schools in a large number of
villages, as a result of the Tobeluk Consent Decree in 1976. There
are no data included in this report on the development of these
b. Urban Schools
The entries for the urban areas include opening and closing dates
only for the first school in a city. Information on the opening and
closing dates of other schools in urban areas is available in borough
school district offices.
c. Private Schools
Since private schools in Alaska were not required to submit annual
reports to the Commissioner of Education until 1935, information on
these schools is sometimes incomplete. Detailed information about
private schools in urban areas is not included.
d. Russian Schools
Russian schools continued to play an important role in the
educational system of Alaska long after 1867. However, specific
information on opening and closing dates of the schools is difficult
to access, and some of the information has not been translated into
Although the publication date for this report is 1985, the data
included are valid only through 1980. In some instances there may be
a one-year discrepancy in the opening and closing dates of schools
since some agencies' records were based on the calendar year, some on
the school year, and some on the fiscal year.
SUMMARY OF MAJOR EDUCATIONAL SYSTEMS IN
The following is a brief summary of the major landmarks in the
establishment of the educational systems in Alaska, which should be
helpful in interpreting the statistical information.
For nearly the first twenty years following the purchase of Alaska
from Russia (1867 to 1884) the U.S. Government made no provision for
education in its newly acquired district. Education was provided by
mission societies of American churches, Russian Orthodox Schools, and
by the Alaska Commercial Company on the Pribilof Islands. Sitka
maintained its own public school from 1869 to 1873.
In 1884, Congress passed the First Organic Act which delegated the
responsibility of providing education for children of all races in
the District of Alaska to the Secretary of the Interior. (It was not
until passage of the Second Organic Act in 1912 that Alaska was given
territorial status, and thus became a "Territory" and not a
"District".) In 1885, the task of providing education was assigned to
the Bureau of Education in the Department of the Interior. From 1885
to 1894 the U.S. Bureau of Education maintained public schools and
"contract schools." Contracts to operate schools were made with
Catholic, Congregational, Episcopal, Methodist, Moravian,
Presbyterian, and Swedish-Evangelical churches.
Government support of these contract schools was withdrawn in
1894, following which the Bureau of Education maintained the only
public schools in the Territory. However, gold rushes during the
nineties resulted in a large increase in the non-Native population
and made it impossible for the Bureau of Education, due to limited
funds, to provide enough schools. Subsequently, in 1900, the U.S.
Congress granted legal authority to communities in Alaska to
incorporate, establish schools, and maintain them through taxation.
Many Alaskan towns did incorporate and establish schools shortly
after the bill passed. However, the number of non-Native communities
which were too small to incorporate was increasing rapidly. They,
too, desired some degree of local autonomy in the management of their
schools. Consequently, in 1905, Congress passed the Nelson Act which
provided for the establishment of schools outside incorporated towns.
The governor of the District of Alaska was made the ex-officio
superintendent of public instruction, and new schools were
established in which only "White children and children of mixed blood
leading a civilized life" were entitled to attend. Responsibility for
schools for Native Alaskans was delegated specifically to the Bureau
of Education under the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Thus, the dual
system of education in Alaska was inaugurated. It consisted of: 1)
the Territorial system, which then included local school districts in
incorporated towns as well as Territorial- operated schools outside
of incorporated towns, all supervised by the governor; and 2) the
federal system of schools for Alaskan Natives, supported through
federal appropriations and supervised by the U.S. Bureau of
Twelve years later, in 1917, Congress removed many of the
educational restrictions that had previously been placed on the
Territorial legislature. The legislature quickly passed the Uniform
School Act which created a Territorial Board of Education and
established the position of Commissioner of Education.
In 1926, the Territory began to operate "Special Schools." These
schools were designed to fill an existing need in communities where
there were fewer children than required by law for the establishment
of a rural school. They were operated on a cooperative basis with the
community and continued to exist until 1943.
From 1905 until 1931, the Bureau of Education extended its
services to more remote sections of the Territory and assumed full
responsibility for the social welfare and education of Alaskan
Natives. The Bureau's services included, along with education, the
Reindeer Service, medical services, cooperative stores, the Alaska
Trust Fund, operation of a ship (North Star) for supplying isolated
villages, and the maintenance of an orphanage and three industrial
In 1931, following a national survey of Indian social and economic
conditions (Merriam Report, 1928), the U.S. Congress transferred the
responsibility for education of the Natives of Alaska from the Bureau
of Education to the Office of Indian Affairs (later referred to as
the Alaska Indian Service, the Alaska Native Service and finally as
the Bureau of Indian Affairs), but still within the Department of the
Interior. This transfer allowed all Native American education
programs to be channeled through a single agency and was intended to
bring Alaskan Native education objectives closer to those of Indian
education in the United States.
Three years later, in 1934, John Collier became the new
Commissioner of Indian Affairs. As a result of Collier's push for
self-determination and the Merriam Report, the Johnson-O'Malley Act
of 1934 was passed which provided financial assistance to states by
providing public school programs for Natives, and authorized
contractual arrangements for the delivery of health, education and
social services. Between 1942 and 1948 the Territorial Department of
Education negotiated contracts with the BIA and approximately twenty
BIA schools were integrated into the Territorial system. In 1951
Congress extended the provisions of the Johnson-O'Malley Act to
Alaska by clarifying its intent. Therefore, in 1951, the first
"Johnson- O'Malley" (JOM) contracts were established and five BIA
schools were transferred to the Territory. Federal funds continued to
support these "JOM Schools" but they were now operated by the
Territorial Department of Education. Plans for unification of the
dual system of education and the orderly transfer of Federal schools
to the Territory were initiated. In 1951, Congress also passed P.L.
815-874 which provided federal funding for the Territorial operation
of schools on military bases (referred to as Alaska On-Base Schools).
Between 1951 and 1954, twenty-two schools were transferred from
the BIA to the Territory, but problems arose between the two groups
and the transfer of JOM schools ceased in 1954. In 1959, when Alaska
became a state, the two components of the dual system of rural
education were still very far apart and a satisfactory plan for
merging them into a single system had not emerged. In addition to the
BIA schools and the rural state-operated schools, there also existed
private schools, and three types of local schools: City School
Districts (every incorporated city constitutes a school district,
1900); Incorporated School Districts (any area in Alaska outside the
limits of an incorporated city and having a population of 100 or more
may incorporate as a school district, 1937); and Independent School
Districts (a school district may organize to include within its
boundaries a city and contiguous areas adjacent to the city, provided
that the district when organized does not embrace more than 500
square miles, 1947).
Five years later, in 1963, the legislature passed the Borough Act
which created nine boroughs and all local school districts located
within the new boroughs were merged. (Thirty-two rural schools were
eventually included in this transfer.) Thus statehood had a
significant influence on the structure of local school districts, but
little on the development of programs for rural education.
In 1965 increased attention was given to rural education and the
State Department of Education was reorganized. A Division of
State-Operated Schools (SOS) was established with responsibility for
Rural and On-Base Schools, and a Governor's committee was created to
once again explore the merger of BIA and State-Operated Rural
Schools. Between 1967 and 1970, twenty-eight BIA schools were
transferred to the State.
In 1971, the Alaska State legislature created the Alaska
State-Operated School System as an independent agency and transferred
operational responsibilities for Rural and On-Base schools from the
Department of Education to this new entity. However, pressure for
more local control brought legislative action again in 1975 that
abolished the State-Operated School System and created the Alaska
Unorganized Borough School District and set up a process for
establishing twenty-one Regional Educational Attendance Areas
(REAAs). On July 1, 1976, the Unorganized Borough School District
ceased to exist and the twenty-one REAAs became school districts. The
operation of On-Base Schools was contracted to nearby borough
districts, or continued as part of the new REAAs.
The formation of these new districts had an impact on BIA school
transfer negotiations as well. No transfer had occurred since 1970,
but in 1975-1976, six BIA schools were transferred to the new REAA
districts and the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Education for
1975-1976 stated that "currently under way are plans to integrate the
State's remaining BIA schools with those under State jurisdiction."
Between July 1, 1976 and June 30, 1979 no BIA schools were
transferred to REAA districts; two were transferred on July 1, 1979.
In the fall of 1979 there were 146 schools in REAA districts and 43
BIA schools. The transfer of BIA schools to REAA districts is
expected to continue, federal plans call for them to be completely
phased out by 1985.
It is evident that schools in rural Alaska have gone through a
complex and often confusing series of changes in administrative
structures and policies. Some schools have operated under as many as
nine different administrative structures, and there are still
communities in which both federal and state schools operate side by
side, one offering the elementary and the other a secondary program.
The school systems in rural communities today are still in a
formative stage of development and will continue to go through
changes paralleling those in the larger social, political and
economic contexts in which they operate. The one consistent theme
throughout the history of schools in Alaska has been a gradual, but
continuous move toward more localized control of the systems through
which they are operated. Following the past pattern of adjustment
from federal to state to regional control, it is likely that changes
will continue to occur toward increasingly localized decision-making.
CHRONOLOGICAL SUMMARY OF MAJOR EDUCATIONAL
LEGISLATION IN ALASKA
U.S. Purchase of Alaska from Russia.
Organic Act-U.S. Congress delegates responsibility of
providing education for children of all races in the
Territory to the Bureau of Education in the Department of
U.S. Congress grants legal authority to communities in
Alaska to incorporate, establish schools and maintain them
Nelson Act-U.S. Congress provides for the establishment
of schools outside incorporated towns, and the governor of
the Territory is made the ex-officio superintendent of
Uniform School Act-U.S. Congress creates a Territorial
Board of Education and establishes the position of
Commissioner of Education .
U.S. Congress transfers responsibility for education of
Alaska Natives from the Bureau of Education to the Office of
Indian Affairs (both within the Department of the Interior).
Johnson-O'Malley Act extension-U.S. Congress extends
provisions of Johnson-O'Malley Act (JOM) to Alaska by
clarifying its intent.
Territorial Law Chapter 77-Allows an incorporated city
and its adjacent settlements to incorporate into an
Independent School District not exceeding 250 square miles.
Anchorage incorporated into the first Independent School
District in 1947.
P.L. 815-874-U.S. Congress provides federal funding for
Territorial operation of schools on military bases.
U.S. Congress passes Alaska Statehood Act.
Borough Act-Alaska State Legislature creates nine
boroughs and all local school districts within the new
boroughs are merged.
Division of State-Operated Schools (SOS)-Alaska State
Department of Education reorganizes and establishes a new
Division (SOS) which is given responsibility for Rural and
Alaska State-Operated School System-Alaska State
Legislature establishes new system as an independent agency
and transfers operational responsibilities for Rural and
On-Base schools from the Department of Education to this new
Alaska Unorganized Borough School District-Alaska State
Legislature abolishes the Alaska State-Operated School
system and establishes the Unorganized Borough School
Regional Educational Attendance Areas (REAAs)-Alaska
State Legislature abolishes the Unorganized Borough School
District and establishes twenty-one REAAs. On-Base schools
contracted to nearby borough districts or continue as part
of the new REAAs.
Tobeluk Consent Decree-The Alaska State Board of
Education adopts regulations assuring every child a right to
attend high school in his or her own community if there is
an elementary school there, unless the community asks that
there be no school.