Klukwan’s school will stay open at least through next school year

A group photo in front of a school
Left to right: Daniel Klanott with the Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center, Chatham school board member Albert Kookesh III, Chatham interim superintendent John Holst, Klukwan advisory school board president Shanah Kinison, Chatham board president Elizabeth Hooge, and Klukwan advisory school board member and Chilkat Indian Village council member Dan Hotch (Photo courtesy of Justina Hotch)

The future of the Klukwan school has been uncertain since last fall, when enrollment dropped below the threshold for state funding. But now, administrators with the regional Chatham School District say the school will stay open next year.

On April 5-6, Chatham school district administrators visited school staff and the community of the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan. It was the school’s first visit from district administrators in more than two years, due to the pandemic.

Klukwan advisory school board president Shanah Kinison called the in-person visit productive.

“Just to have these three bodies all working together, in collaboration,” Kinison said. “I had really high hopes for it. And it just exceeded my expectations. It was just wonderful.”

Klukwan residents and the school community had a challenging year.

In the fall of 2021, enrollment dropped below 10 students, the threshold for state funding, risking school closure. A head teacher backed out at the start of the year, so a series of substitutes filled in until the school hired a full time teacher this spring. The school bus was totaled after hitting a moose, so volunteers picked up students in the village van. Then the Chatham superintendent, Bruce Houck, died unexpectedly in December.

Klukwan officials say navigating these issues — and the pandemic — remotely with district administrators was especially difficult.

The Chatham School District administers schools in Klukwan, Angoon, Gustavus and an independent learning center at Tenakee Springs. No school board members are based in Klukwan. Before the pandemic, board members visited about once a year.

Klukwan currently serves nine students, grades kindergarten through seventh. On their visit, Chatham administrators assured Klukwan staff and community that the school will continue to stay open next year.

Kinison says the two-day, in-person visit was an important opportunity for in-depth discussions around the school’s future.

“All the staff members were involved. The village, the community, parents, it just felt healing,” she said. “I think we’re all on the same page. And I haven’t felt that yet. So it was really, really wonderful. I have a lot of hope moving forward for next year.”

Board president Elizabeth Hooge, Angoon-based board member Albert Kookesh III and Chatham interim Superintendent John Holst made the visit to Klukwan.

“They spent the day-and-a-half or so that we spent with them showing us and telling us how important the school is to the students and the people that live in Klukwan,” Holst said. “And they were very energetic about doing whatever they could to help to get the school back on sound footing.”

Board president Elizabeth Hooge did not respond to requests for comment.

Holst says they discussed the enrollment drop, which may have been made worse by the pandemic.

“I think they just got caught in the COVID mess, and parents decided to homeschool their kids for a while, until COVID is over. And they very well might be ready to do that, to re-enroll at this point,” he said.

Holst says the district will continue to work on hiring a teacher for next year. He says the small school environment also may appeal to Chilkat Valley families.

“The teacher of course then can give a lot of personal attention,” Holst said. “Which is very different, for instance, than the elementary classroom in Haines, which is the other option, (but) that classroom might have 20 students.”

Discussions also focused on cost-saving measures to facilities at the school site, staffing and re-launching a preschool in Klukwan.

Justina Hotch is a Klukwan educator and administrator of the STEPs program. Hotch says it was an opportunity to discuss more about Klukwan’s unique educational programs, including Lingít language and culture.

“We have a Lingít language teacher full time with a five-year grant, and the opportunities to really make this a place-based Lingít language, kind of magnet school,” Hotch said. “There isn’t anywhere else in the community where kids can learn Lingít language like here, and that’s a real gift that we have.”

She says that extends to traditional subsistence activities, science and outdoor education, and community members are integral to the school as guest speakers and teachers.

Hotch says families can also connect to Chatham’s distance learning programs and utilize resources at Klukwan school.

“Students who homeschool in the Chilkat Valley can come here to Klukwan for any kind of support, for like distance education classes through the district,” Hotch said. “They can also participate in different activities here. They can do Lingít language here. If they’re homeschooling, there are a lot of different educational opportunities that may not look like the traditional education at another school.”

Klukwan advisory school board president Kinison says she feels hopeful after the district administrators’ visit.

“We feel supported, absolutely supported,” she said. “They want us to keep going and they’re going to help us make it happen.”

Through April, the district will work to finalize next year’s budget, including administering over $700,000 in federal COVID relief funding to schools in Klukwan, Angoon, Gustavus and Tenakee Springs.

KHNS - Haines

KHNS is our partner station in Haines. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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