The landmark Molly Hootch settlement that brought high schools to the Bush
20 years ago is no longer protected from
lawmakers and others looking to save the state money.
In September 1989, the settlement expired when an Anchorage Superior Court
judge signed an order terminating the court's
jurisdiction. The state fulfilled its obligations, Judge Brian Shortell found, by building high schools in every Bush
community that wanted one.
``The decree itself no longer has any binding effect,'' says Stephen Cotton, one of the lead attorneys in the Hootch case.
But that does not change the fact that the state discriminated against Native
students by forcing them to leave home for
boarding school, Cotton says. The routine keeping together of families in white communities translated into a routine
willingness to break up Native families, he says.
``Any new effort to tamper with a system which was designed by its terms to
remediate past discrimination should, if it
proceeds at all, proceed with great caution lest discrimination be reintroduced in the system,'' says Cotton, now practicing law
Still, the original Molly Hootch argument failed in court. The schools came
about when the state Department of Education,
recognizing a need and flush with oil money, simply agreed to a court-approved settlement.
Anchorage Republican Mark Hanley says state budget writers have the freedom
to chip away at the rural high school
Hanley, the chief budget writer for the Republican-controlled House, points
out that while elementary schools can provide a
quality education in the Bush, high schools suffer from too-few teachers. Lawmakers will push for more regional high
schools, Hanley says.
``We really can't afford to have eight-person schools anymore,'' Hanley says. ``It's incredibly expensive.''
Con Bunde, co-chairman of the House Health, Education and Social Services
Committee, says lawmakers are just becoming
aware of the 1989 expiration and that changes in education spending will come.
``It certainly allows the state perhaps more flexibility in funding education in rural areas,'' the Anchorage Republican says.
The Hootch settlement would not have happened during the state's current $444
million deficit, Bunde says. ``The Hootch
settlement took place when the state was rolling in money.''
Tearing down the Bush education system would spur dozens of lawsuits, says
Kotzebue Democratic Sen. Al Adams. ``They
would be from all over the state of Alaska, not just my district.''
Regardless of the state's current economic health, the Alaska Constitution
guarantees rural students receive a high school
education, says Adams, who has been in the Legislature since 1980.
``We have an obligation to educate our Alaskans whether you live in an urban or rural setting,'' Adams says.
``Urban legislators are going to look at this as a way of cutting cost of
government. We rural legislators will be fighting
Lawsuits or not, Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles says Bush high schools aren't working as well as they should be.
Knowles wants to establish a procedure for fairness in the state's allocation
of funding schools through the foundation
formula. He also proposes accrediting school districts, holding them to a national standard.
``Their children are not necessarily getting the best education to prepare
them for either the workforce or the university.''
"On the Edge: Do Bush Schools Measure Up?"
By Wendy Hower and Kristan Kelly, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Part Six
Candy Bauchmann's pregnant belly presses against her desk.
She watches her red-cheeked college professor pace and point, running up and
down the auditorium aisles, exclaiming about
the murder of Archduke Francis Ferdinand. He calls out questions to the 250 students. Candy never raises her hand.
During this, her first week at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, 18-year-old
Candy, who was considered a good student at
her village high school, faces a rockier transition to college life than most freshmen.
``It's three times all the students in Minto,'' she says, comparing this single class with her village school.
She feels self-conscious about her unwanted pregnancy. And she's realized
her small high school did not prepare her for
the rigors of college. Two of her four classes are remedial and do not count toward a degree program.
In this history class, Candy has trouble understanding her weekly reading
assignments in ``The Economist'' magazine. Her
mind wanders during lectures. She doesn't know how to take notes.
Two months later, reflecting on her first semester at college, Candy's words
are brave, but her voice trembles and her eyes
well with tears.
``Sometimes I just want to quit,'' she says. ``My parents told me there will
be times I'm not going to handle it because I'm
pregnant. I've got to keep going.'' And she knows she has to give her baby up for adoption.
One early October afternoon, Candy sinks into a blue-cushioned sofa and pulls
a big Ziploc bag of dried salmon from her
backpack. It's tough like bark. The fish leaves an oily sheen on her fingers as she shares it with her old high school friends.
The Minto gang often finds refuge here, gabbing on the stuffed couches at Rural Student Services.
These six students, one of them a mother of four, are Minto's pioneers_the
first Minto High School graduates to go to
They aren't just in school to help themselves. The pressure is strong, they
say, to gain the education needed to return to their
village, take jobs there and help their families. Indeed, 19 percent of rural students surveyed by UAF's Rural Student
Services say they attend college to improve quality of life in their villages.
But in many ways, they enter college bearing a handicap_being educated in
their home villages. They find their high school
diplomas don't measure up to those from city high schools.
Poorly educated students, some say, are the real legacy of the Molly Hootch
settlement that brought high schools to the
villages 20 years ago.
Most of the University of Alaska's rural students, who make up 30 percent
of the enrollment, produce Scholastic
Assessment Test scores that don't meet out-of-state college admissions requirements. More than half of UAF's students held
back in developmental classes come from rural high schools.
It's not unusual for rural high school graduates to work 10 to 12 years toward
a degree from UAF's Kuskokwim campus in
Bethel. The campus routinely turns away applicants who test below an eighth-grade reading level, says Director David
Williams. ``By and large they are not prepared to enter freshmen-level courses.''
The biggest hurdle for these predominantly Yupik students is they speak English
as a second language. One faculty member
works solely with them and helps local school districts improve their bilingual programs.
Williams, a former teacher at Bethel's pre-Hootch regional boarding school,
has seen improvement in surrounding high
schools over the past five years.
``Over the past 18, 19 years, the quality of education dropped and is slowly
picking up,'' he says. ``They have set up a school
system from basically ground zero.''
Meanwhile, of the 70 full-time and 400 part-time students on the Kuskokwim
campus, 90 percent take developmental math,
reading and English courses that don't count toward a degree. This tacks an extra year and a half onto the average college
The Minto gang is no different.
Candy and her friends remember senior year in Minto, when they rarely had
homework, reading assignments or even
lectures by teachers. Now they are struggling.
``I'm not used to doing so much homework,'' Candy says. ``I have to do it every day.''
Two weeks before finals, two stopped going to class. Another two of them were
barely passing their developmental English
classes. They all complain of early morning classes, boring lectures and lack of motivation.
``It's like you're running and you're trying to catch up with everybody,''
says freshman Jonathan Titus. ``I've missed so many
days of classes.''
The problem, these students say, is their Bush high school teachers did not challenge them enough.
``All of our teachers are our friends,'' freshman Colleen Charlie says. ``Now
that I'm graduated, I wish I had had a better
At UAF, it means little that Colleen was student council president and valedictorian
of Minto High School's class of three
last year. She spent this fall semester learning about semicolons, Newton's Law of Gravity and fractions. ``This is all the
stuff I should have learned in high school,'' she says. ``Maybe even junior high."
A dozen teens huddle around a television screen watching ``Casablanca'' this
afternoon at Minto High School. Some are
riveted, a few pay no attention, as Ingrid Bergman walks away from Humphrey Bogart and into the mist. One boy stands in
the back of the classroom, ignoring the movie and twirling a chair on one leg.
It's Joe Goldstein's last-period class, 30 minutes he reserves for classic movie videos.
``Monday we start Moby Dick,'' Goldstein says, referring to the movie, not
the book, as the students rush past him out the
Later Goldstein explains how students are too restless to do much else at
the end of the day. ``We used to have quiet
reading, but that didn't work out.''
After school, two of Goldstein's new students drop by to chat. Seventeen-year-old
Missy Mayo spent her freshman year at a
2,500-student high school in Virginia last year. Eighteen-year-old Mindona Johnson, a senior, was one of about 900
students last year at North Pole High School.
Mindona took college-preparatory trigonometry and played violin in the chamber
orchestra at North Pole. Minto has no
music program or college-prep classes. The most advanced math course is geometry.
Both girls agree they spend more time in class this year because Minto offers
few distractions. Missy would skip school in
Virginia to go shopping, visit friends or see movies. In the village, as Mindona puts it, ``There's no place to go.'' But the two
girls echo claims by graduates Colleen and Candy that Goldstein and the school's three other teachers are too easy.
``Virginia was really hard,'' Missy says. ``Like, more work and stuff.''
Such remarks don't ruffle Goldstein. Good-naturedly, he defends the school and his teaching style.
``I hope it's easy because we make it easier to learn,'' he says. ``We make it more fun to learn.''
After five years here, Goldstein has made his reputation for a fun sense of
humor, not tough classes. Last year he shaved his
head, as promised, when the basketball team made it to the state tournament in Anchorage. Kids call him Joe. It's just a fact
of village life that the classroom structure is loose, he says.
Teachers must excuse kids from class more often for moose hunting, basketball
games and potlatches. Some students miss
whole days to chop wood or care for younger siblings.
``You know your students and you can give a little bit,'' he says. ``We cut 'em slack.''
Many students live with grandparents who stopped attending school after the
fourth grade, he says. They are not accustomed
to reading at home. The high school reading program, which requires students to read 30 minutes a night, is a huge
improvement over five years ago, he says.
``It's just hard to send the kids home with a book.''
Such an attitude is unheard of in the Yukon River village of Galena, where
teachers for the last two years have been
assigning three hours of homework a night. Second-year teacher Jim Lawhon, 29, believes all Bush students should be held
to high expectations. He doesn't tolerate interruptions, roughhousing or talking back.
``Everyone says he's hard on us, but that's good beca use they're going to
be hard on us in college,'' says senior Mariah
Lawhon won't know whether his teaching methods will pay off until students
like Mariah graduate and go on to college. ``I
feel like the juniors and seniors I've had for British and American lit will hold their own in a college classroom.''
Meanwhile, it's not easy to be a slacker in Lawhon's social science and English classes.
``Try not to read to us,'' he tells a student standing before the class, delivering a speech on the pre-colonial separatists.
A few minutes later he interrupts the student again. ``You're reading to us
again. Try not to look so casual,'' he says, unhappy
with the student's posture and gum chewing.
Later, in the freshman/sophomore English class, he paces up and down the aisles
during a discussion of the novel
``Ordinary People.'' He quick-fires questions, pushing the students when they answer ``I dunno.''
``Think about it, Joe. What do you think it has to say about suicide?''
Juniors and seniors groan when Lawhon assigns 25 pages of ``The Scarlet Letter'' for overnight reading.
``He's not flexible_that's good,'' Mariah says.
The teacher is proud that his students listed ``Mr. Lawhon's class'' as their
No. 1 stress on a recent school survey. School
counselors had expected students to list drinking, drugs or troubles at home as their biggest worries.
Lawhon maintains that a strong work ethic is just as important as the subjects
he teaches. Whether his students go on to
college or take a job working for a local airline, he says, they must have certain skills.
``They need to be alert, ready to go, and be on time,'' he says. ``It all depends on accountability.''
Bush students can succeed, he says, but their teachers have to lead the way.
``They'll learn to rise to standards,'' he says.
``Rarely will students rise above their teacher's expectations.''
Disparity among teachers is typical in the Bush, says UAF professor Judith
Kleinfeld, whose damning study of regional
boarding schools in the 1970s was used by Molly Hootch lawyers.
In a more recent study of 32 village high schools, she found ``the capacity
for excellence and disaster.'' Bush education can
work, Kleinfeld says, but it's difficult and depends on individual teachers.
``High teacher expectations is essential,'' she says.
The small school offers low pupil/teacher ratios_perfect for one-on-one instruction,
or tutorial teaching. This style results in
students achieving more, yet most teachers don't use it.
``You can't teach as if it's a class of 40. And you can't use workbooks,'' she says. ``It just takes energy."
Candy Bauchmann's water broke on a 35-below-zero December morning. During
a problematic 24-hour labor, she missed a
math test. Before giving birth, she smiled wryly about the test while sitting in her hospital gown, as the baby's heartbeat
pulsed on the monitor.
She had a Cesarean section the next day and she missed a week of school. Pregnancy
was never in Candy's plans. During
her senior year in Minto, she dreamed of studying journalism at the University of Miami.
But last May on her high school graduation day, her secret pregnancy was foremost
in her mind. Her ambition of studying
amid palm trees was fading: She knew she needed her family's support, so she settled for school in nearby Fairbanks.
Looking for something to wear in her mother's closet, she found baby clothes
instead. ``Look. This was my first baby
dress,'' she said, holding up the lacy pink frock and smiling shyly.
Later that day, at the ceremony, Candy took the microphone and looked out
at parents, sisters, friends, relatives. Everyone in
the village was packed into the bleachers.
She spoke of two symbolic tears falling on her cheeks.
``One for my home and for my people. The other is for the sadness in my heart.
Stay, please stay_that's what the second tear
is saying to me.''
But her parents and village elders told her to go. They implored her and the
other graduates to go to college and use their
knowledge to improve Minto.
``We want to see you come back,'' Walter Bauchmann, Candy's father, said to
the graduates. ``And we want to see you help
our village. And help our people.''