In Alaska, Education Secretary DeVos touts alternative schooling agenda

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks with Mat-Su Central School principal John Brown.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks with Mat-Su Central School principal John Brown. Brown toured DeVos around the school on Aug. 26, 2019. (Photo by Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is in Alaska this week. She’s traveling the state to see how certain communities are using alternatives to traditional K-12 public schooling. It’s the first time she’s visited as Education secretary.

“It really is to learn and visit a variety of communities,” Devos said. “Getting a better understanding of the challenges of the remote communities in Alaska, as well as your urban areas, and how you’re addressing things in the larger urban area.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy hosted DeVos at Mat-Su Central School in Wasilla, a public alternative school that officials say focuses on individual student outcomes. The school coordinates with district schools, charter schools and private options in an effort to build curricula around students. DeVos heard from staff, parents and students about their positive experiences with the school.

DeVos, a champion of school vouchers and charter schools, says that model could serve as a template for more rural communities.

“I think this is a good example of beginning to think differently and creatively about what meeting the needs of individual students can look like,” DeVos said. “And it really does involve delivering curriculum opportunities remotely, and course choice.”

When asked about whether alternative schooling options for rural communities would look like boarding schools, which many Native communities are staunchly opposed to, Gov. Dunleavy interjected.

“Some of those trepidations are probably steeped in history when kids were forced to go to a boarding school, or forced to do something that they or their parents didn’t want to have happen,” Dunleavy said. “That’s an era we’re not dealing with now. What we’re really talking about is opportunities and choice.”

DeVos says that schooling alternatives in villages could implement local culture in a more robust manner.

“I think the opportunity to actually embrace and celebrate the culture and the experience of some of the indigenous people is one focus of how to rethink education and think about it anew,” DeVos said.

DeVos’s tour of Alaska began earlier Monday with a visit to American Charter Academy in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough accompanied by Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Murkowski had previously voted against confirming DeVos as Education Secretary, citing concerns over DeVos’s lack of experience with public schools and Alaska. Murkowski said many constituents were concerned the school voucher model isn’t a realistic option for rural Alaska.

DeVos is set to visit Anchorage, Nome and Kotzebue during her visit to the state.

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