Story posted December, 2007
• Cut dropout rate nearly in half
• Students now consistently test above state averages in reading, writing and math
• More than two-thirds of graduates now go to college
How does an Alaska school district serving just 250 students, most of them living in remote areas accessible only by aircraft, receive the nation's highest Presidential honor for organizational performance? The answer: by pioneering a standards-based system of "whole child education" that adapts to students' individual needs and delivers big gains in student performance.
Chugach School District was chosen for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 2001, just seven years after launching a comprehensive restructuring effort known as the Chugach Quality Schools Model (CQSM). The restructuring was a response by school district leaders to a plethora of challenges, including dismal test scores, high dropout rates, and the inability of graduates to hold jobs or become productive members of their communities.
After securing a waiver from the Alaska Department of Education, the district took a bold step: It replaced credit hours and grade levels with an individualized, student-centered approach based on standards in 10 content areas. Students work at their own developmentally appropriate pace toward demonstrated levels of mastery in subjects both traditional (math, science, reading, writing) and nontraditional (service learning, career development, cultural awareness and expression, and healthy development).
High expectations are reinforced through a variety of formal and informal assessments in each content area. Students and their families can track progress by consulting the student assessment binders maintained for every student in the district. While some students may achieve graduation-level proficiency as early as age 14, others may meet their requirements when they are 21. In addition to meeting the district's requirements, students must meet the state's benchmark testing requirements and pass the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam.
Since adopting the CQSM reforms, Chugach School District itself has chalked up impressive performance gains. Faculty turnover has declined dramatically, and the dropout rate has fallen by nearly half, from 9 percent to 4.9 percent in 2006. The district's students now consistently test above state-level achievement averages in reading, writing and math. And more than two-thirds of graduates now go to college. These and other positive results have prompted other school districts, inside and outside Alaska, to try the Chugach model.
Superintendent Bob Crumley said the Chugach model works because it asks something of everyone--and everyone gets something back. "The hard work put in by teachers and staff, the empowerment and ownership by the community and students, and the accountability that is built into the whole system is what makes it successful," he said.
Former Chugach School District student September Martin had a simpler explanation for what makes this small school district worthy of national and international attention. "I know that I am surrounded by people who would like to see me succeed in life."
Further details about this story can be found in our sources:
LFA's interview with Chugach teacher LeAnn Galusha, January 2008 (listen above, 15 minutes)
NSBA's Center for Public Education, "Reinventing Education, Alaska Style," April 2006
Grace Rubenstien, for Edutopia, "Northern Lights: These Schools Leave Literally No Child Behind," September 2007
For additional information, please contact:
Superintendent, Chugach School District
Photos courtesy of the Center for Public Education and the Chugach School District