#RethinkSchool: Alaska Magnet School Provides Career Readiness in District the Size of Indiana

Paul Bartos knew about education in rural America after serving as a 7th grade biology teacher, assistant principal and a principal in Poplar and White Sulphur Springs, Montana.

However, Montana was not considered rural for a majority of the students in the Northwest Arctic Borough School District in Kotzebue, Alaska. “Kotz” as Alaskans call the town, is home to just over 3,200 residents and 2,000 students. Despite the small population, students are spread throughout an area the size of Indiana. It is here that Paul served as an assistant principal at Kotzebue High School and now serves as principal of Star of the Northwest Magnet School.

Students in the Introduction to Culinary Arts class at Star of the Northwest Magnet School take cheese cake out of the freezer to firm up the icing prior to serving.

Due to the rural nature of the Northwest Arctic district, an important educational need had not been met:

“The greatest piece that was not being met was career readiness or secondary-education readiness. The kids were not ready for the workforce, for the jobs that were in high demand here in our region.”

In response to this need, the regional school board enacted a plan to create the Star of the Northwest Magnet School. Star of the Northwest has partnerships with the Alaska Technical Center and University of Alaska at Fairbanks, designed to provide students with pathways to careers and higher education. Alaska Technical Center provides students with education in process tech (technology needed in the mining industry), culinary art and health care.

Trevor Ayunerak, 12th grade, from Alakanuk, practices basic techniques for his welding class.

“The kids will go to high school, but then they’ll go over to the tech center (four blocks from the magnet school). It’s dual-enrollment credits. They’re earning their certifications and their high-school diploma at the same time. The University of Alaska campus provides Star of the Northwest teachers with certification as adjunct professors. This way, our teachers are able to provide classes in high school for college credits.”

Star of the Northwest also works with Anchorage-based Voyage to Excellence. Typically, a Star of the Northwest student lives with his family in a camp 35 miles up the Noatak River. If the student wants to be a pilot, the curriculum is not offered in Kotzebue but Voyage to Excellence provides the necessary pilot ground school in Anchorage.

Star of the Northwest’s partnerships underscore that this magnet school’s success comes from being part of a team.

“We cannot do what we do without every stakeholder involved – from the parents to the janitor to the neighbors to the mom and dad. To me, it’s unreal when parents say, ‘Yes, we believe in what you’re doing. We trust you with our child. Do what you can to support them.’ I think we do a pretty good job at it.”


Joe Barison is a public affairs specialist with the Office of Communications and Outreach.

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Note: This is a post in our #RethinkSchool series. The series features innovative schools and stories from students, parents and educators highlighting efforts across the United States to rethink school. Check back on Thursdays for new posts in the series. The #RethinkSchool series presents examples of approaches schools, educators, families and others are using to rethink school in their individual and unique circumstances. Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. The Department of Education does not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.