Anchorage Charter School Focuses on Alaska Natives
The Alaska Native Cultural Charter School spent much of its first year in a church and the past two years in a former strip mall furniture store that was converted to house the school.
The former store facility has ample classrooms, a lunch room, library and cultural room, according to Principal Diane Hoffbauer. But the PK-7 school with 217 students in Anchorage doesn't have a playground or gym. Hoffbauer told the National Charter School Resource Center that the Academic Policy Committee (the governing board) hopes to have a new building by the time the current lease expires.
The school was developed to address the high number of students who are Alaska Natives who get lost in the large Anchorage School District. Many families also contend with other social and poverty issues.
The school has a challenging mission -- advancing Alaska Natives in standard academics while strengthening students' own cultural connections.
"Native ways of knowing must be balanced with required reading, writing and math," she said. "They must be able to graduate from high school."
Many of the students come to the school because their family is looking for opportunity in the state's biggest urban center. They often come from tiny villages that are so remote they can only be reached by skiff or plane, a move requiring substantial acclimation. Other urban families want their children to maintain strong cultural foundations and appreciate the school’s small size and cultural focus.
Hoffbauer is in her first year as the school's principal and came to the job after serving as principal of an Anchorage School District elementary school.
"Expanding the Success of Native Language & Culture-Based Education" was the subject of a May 26, 2011 hearing by the U.S. Senate's Indian Affairs Committee that included testimony from Alvin Parker, Principal of Ka Waihona O ka Na'auao Public Charter School in Waianae, Hawai’i.