By AlaskaWatchman.com

At the repeated request of parents we looked into a story involving the Matsu Borough School District and the recent, sudden change, in the manner of admissions into MatSu Career and Tech high school.

When the school was originally founded, under the guidance of then principal Ben Eveland, Career and Tech operated under a tried and true, Career Academy Model. The point of the school was to teach core classes required to graduate and in lieu of the arts and music, help kids choose a pathway toward a skillset and a career that would give them important career insight and experience upon graduation.

This is how the school first operated, with the goal of encouraging students to pursue not necessarily college, but whatever post-secondary training would land them in the career they had learned about and expressed interest in. That could be specific training in Vocational Ed, Apprenticeship, or other workforce training in the trades, OR College.

When Ben Eveland was replaced by recently retired principal Mark Okeson, things began to change. I interviewed a teacher who was present when Principal Okeson began the transition away from Career Academy Model, to College Prep, with the introduction of advanced placement or AP classes, which often ended up replacing a tech class and leaving much of the Career and Tech facility underutilized.

The staff at the time was almost universally opposed to the idea because the Model of Career and Tech is not to funnel kids into the Ivy Leagues, but Okeson didn’t see it that way and over the years transformed Career and Tech into the top academically performing school in the state. At the end of his career, Okeson did this by only allowing students with academic performance exceeding 95% of their peers admission to Career and Tech, provided they interviewed well. Basically he only accepted the cream of the educational crop.

Last Summer the office of the Commissioner of Education noticed some glaring disparities in the demographics of the school. According to Superintendent Trani, the state told the MatSu School District that if they didn’t fix their demographics, they risked losing their Perkins Grant funding, which is the bulk of the funding for Career and Tech Elective Classes.

School Board President Tom Bergey stated that removal of the Perkins Grant would not have caused the outright closure of Career and Tech, but would have made it’s original Career and Tech mission very difficult to fund.

To address this, and to the dismay of many parents, the admission process based on merit, effort and desire that Career and Tech had used until the end of Calendar year 2020 was ended, and the school has moved to a lottery system for selecting admissions. The application process still requires a short essay and two letters of reference to apply, but applicants will be chosen at random by computer.

This formalized lottery change gets to the heart of two issues. The first is the currently arbitrary way that our charter schools hold admission lotteries. Until now, staff might, after 6pm, behind locked doors, open all the envelopes, debate with fellow staff who they liked, and literally choose the winners. The list of complaints against MatSu charter schools for picking students based on Who you Know, is quite long, and the complaints have been ongoing for years according to both Trani and Bergey. When public tax dollars are paying for your teachers and building, it would be an understatement to simply call that an unethical no no.

MatSu Career and Tech had taken this exclusionary selection process to the extreme in recent years, according to Superintendent Trani, by selecting students who weren’t even living in MatSu or even in STATE, over applicants who live here and who’s parents are undoubtedly footing the bill. Imagine if you found out your kid was passed over for admission because a kid from out of state “interviewed well” while you’ve been paying your property taxes here in MatSu for several decades… One could be forgiven for getting a little hot under the collar.

Superintendent Traini told the Alaska Watchman the lottery process across MatSu Borough School district charter schools is about to undergo a serious transparency overhaul that eliminates the possibility of preferential treatments and makes student admissions truly randomized and fair.

The second issue is the abandonment of the last vestiages of meritocracy left in public education. When you make it out of high school, whether or not you give a rip MATTERS. Said a better way, your altitude is determined by your attitude. Career Tech sought to instill this value in its students, and this skill would have served students regardless of whether they went on to post-secondary education, or went straight into the workforce.

Most parents understand this truth, and it’s abandonment on the altar of equal percentage distributions is no guarantee that the demographics at Career Tech will improve. Superintendent Randy Trani, and School Board President Tom Bergey both admit as much, but said specifically, this change will appease the State for now.

Time will tell if educational experiences and outcomes at Career and Tech move successfully back to a Career Academy Model meant for ALL kids, or whether this change is simply more bureaucratic meddling fraught with unintended consequences and little benefit.

2.20 > Career & Tech Admissions

Jake Libbey
Christian, husband, father, amateur-apologist and lover of good communication, our Publisher has invested countless hours bringing the Alaska Watchman to life. Jake is responsible for operations at the Watchman, advertising, and design of the website. In partnership with our Editor-in-Chief, the content for the articles on alaskawatchman.com are a product of the passion, energy and synergy between Publisher and Editor-in-Chief.


5 Comments

  • Ed Martin Jr says:

    THE who knows who is the who who’s of this world today , until your picked on by the scrutiny of your FACEBOOK POSTS !
    Just Saying! There most of had a pay off ( to who ) in this whole changing of direction…who knows? NO worries UBI & $12.00 an hour will cure everything … Mr. Global say’s , it’s time to reset & wear your mask !

  • Ed Martin Jr says:

    Sorry $15.00 an hour ! That will keep you out of poverty but in the credit card world , hooray !

  • Charter School Teacher says:

    This is an outright lie:. There is a TON of oversight. on lotteries. Until now, staff might, after 6pm, behind locked doors, open all the envelopes, debate with fellow staff who they liked, and literally choose the winners. There is literally no oversight, and as you can imagine, the list of complaints against MatSu charter schools for picking students based on Who you Know, is quite long, and the complaints have been ongoing for years.

    What complaints? Where? Did the reporter talk to any of those parents because they aren’t quoted here.
    Our lottery is overseen by the mayor and the chief of police, btw.

    Also an outright lie: Superintendent Trani, by selecting students who weren’t even living in MatSu or even in STATE, over applicants who live here and who’s WHOSE- parents are undoubtedly footing the bill. Imagine if you found out your kid was passed over f

    The school admitted 2 kids from eagle river in all the years it operated and both with mitigating factors.

    “This article is unmitigated BS. The district had to change the model due to federal funding and for no other reason.
    It spawns divisiveness through half truths and an us (people) vs them (school board) mentality. It’s also based on here say and very little actual Reporting. Also the opinion writer is playing both sides against each other
    1. You can’t have a meritocracy in public education bc of federal laws requiring equal access
    And 2- even if it was legal, you can’t have a meritocracy without an admission process, which the writer also apparently abhors.

    • Jake Libbey says:

      Several things to address this comment. First (as the writer and person who did the video and interviews) this piece was done at the request of several parents who wanted it known that Career and Tech had suddenly changed models.

      Second, I interviewed Randy Trani and Tom Bergey who told me about the out of town and out of state admissions, I didn’t know of this before the interview and it provided context to support their change to a lottery. All of the information in this video comes directly from Trani and/or Bergey who explained concerns about the ongoing complaints they receive about the unfairness of the lottery system at various charter schools (they did not name names to me) and they explained that they would be announcing on Friday, February 20th, that the Boroughwide Charter School Lottery system would be undergoing an overhaul to its transparency, to address the ongoing complaints.

      Third, the example I stated about what happens after 6pm comes directly from a charter school teacher who witnessed this exact thing happen with their own two eyes. They love their school and students and don’t want a bunch of parental / staff blowback for shedding light on what was happening in the lottery, but the description of how it goes (at their school) is from a reliable source and NO I will not break their confidence so you can try and cancel them.

      Fourth, only accepting students above 95% academic performance is INDEED a meritocracy and that metric was explained to me as a criteria used BY Principal Okeson BY Superintendent Trani. Saying it didn’t or can’t happen because of federal law is not a talisman that rewrites history. Trani and Bergey both expressed they would like Career Tech to go back to the Career Academy Model that makes the unique mission of the school available to everyone, and not just the highest performing students academically. I believe they are doing what they believe will produce the best outcomes for Career Tech while also appeasing the state and protecting the school’s access to Perkins Grant funding. You can call Trani and Bergey liars, and me for repeating their statements, but I believe them to honest and forthright, albeit in a tough spot and trying to do the best they can in a difficult situation.

  • Ruth Ewig says:

    It is not a surprise that a tech school would be transformed into something academia wants. Being taught a trade would allow work anywhere. Gradually changing to academia would yield a dependence on academia to pick and choose workers. A trade is independent and lifelong. It is a lost art that needs to be in place. This is outright evil to eliminate the tech school and have no option for those who are not interested in the academic but are more practical and their talents are useful in more hands-on training.

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