Many parents have removed their children from public schools in favor of private education, both in Alaska and around the nation. This is occurring despite financial hardships due to Covid-related unemployment, high gas prices and growing inflation.

Cook Inlet Academy classes of 2022 and 2035 gather for a photo.

The Alaska Watchman spoke with three private schools to examine why this trend is playing out in the 49th state. Cook Inlet Academy of Soldotna, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School of Anchorage, and Grace Lutheran School of Kenai all have increased student populations.

Ginny Hagadorn serves as administrator of Cook Inlet Academy, where many parents are choosing to pre-enroll for the coming school year.

“Parents are valuing our spots and scooping them up while they can,” she said, adding that over the last couple of years enrollment was below 100 students. As of this month, the school already has 145 enrollees for this coming fall.

Kathy Gustafson, principal at St Elizabeth Ann Seton School, sees a similar trend.

“Before COVID we were at 181 students,” she said. “We have now increased enrollment by 10-12 students and have reached our capacity of 192 students. We also have a waitlist.”

Grace Lutheran Principal Elijah Kroll said he has also noticed increased enrollment.

As to why these schools are growing, administrators point to issues surrounding displeasure with Covid restrictions at public schools and parents’ wanting to give kids a faith-based education.

“I think the restrictions in public schools around COVID made families look for something different,” Hagadorn said.

Students from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Anchorage gather around a statue of Jesus in the school.

Gustafson, too, believes Covid played a role.

“Parents are wanting an excellent education for their kids,” she said. “The kids missed a lot during the pandemic. We were open during the pandemic.”

Kroll said he thinks Grace Lutheran’s growth is partly explained by parents’ desire to give their children an education that includes the pursuit of ultimate truth.

“All of our success we have had in growth is from spreading the truth,” he said. “We have a good reputation in our community. We have also found a niche with people who are conservative.”

Each of these institutions, like many private schools across Alaska, offer additional perks that most public schools don’t.

Cook Inlet Academy has smaller class sizes in addition to a faith-based curriculum.

St Elizabeth Ann Seton School offers extracurriculars such as robotics, after school art and choir, and band for students in grades fourth through sixth.

“We also have faith and morals,” Gustafson noted, as well as “a sense of community.”

Grace Lutheran features an interesting arrangement in which students are placed into multigrade classrooms. Kroll said this approach provides a social benefit for kids.

While faith is important to the schools, students do not need to be from any particular church to attend.

“It is academically good because kids can learn advanced concepts from their older classmates,” he observed. Kroll added that being a smaller school, Grace Lutheran also has a tight sense of community that might be more illusive at larger schools.

Engaging parents as active and primary partners in education is another feature of these schools.

“We are big on working with parents,” Kroll said. “Essentially, the parents who are more involved – those kids see success more. The kids who have parents who follow-up, do better in school.”

Faith is a pillar at every school, and central to each of their identities.

Teachers and staff members sign a statement of faith at Cook Inlet Academy, while students at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton attend Mass once a week, take religion classes every day, pray during lunch and pray at the beginning and end of every day.

“God’s Word is the foundation of everything that we are,” Kroll said of Grace Lutheran. “We look at everything through a Christian perspective, and we pray twice per day.”

Students are taught other values at these schools, as well.

Cook Inlet Academy wants “students to leave school with the ability to look at things from a biblical worldview,” Hagadorn said.

At St Elizabeth Ann Seton, the aim is to foster “well disciplined” students who are guided by morality and respect for others, Gustafson relayed.

While faith is important to the schools, students do not need to be from any particular church to attend.

At Cook Inlet, anyone can sign up, although teens aren’t enrolled unless they want to attend, and staff members must sign a statement of faith, but families don’t.

St Elizabeth Ann Seton is open to anybody as well. While religion is not forced on anyone, students are required to participate in a faith-based curriculum. Grace Lutheran School is also open to the general public.

Whether the uptick in private school enrollment continues post pandemic remains to be seen, but if current trends hold, smaller private schools across Alaska will likely continue to grow.


— Click here to view a list of some of the top private and/or religious schools in Alaska.

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Alaska’s private, religious schools grow despite Covid, inflation, high gas prices

Sarah Strubel
Sarah Strubel is studying Political Science at Loyola University Chicago. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, practicing French and Chinese, and cooking. She is currently working as a summer intern for the Alaska Watchman.


  • Neil DeWitt says:

    I think the real reason is these schools teach the children the three “R’s” reading, writing, and arithmetic. Skills that will be needed all the rest of their lives. Public schools all you have to do is show up and get passed on to tge next grade. When’s the last time we a child was held back because they didn’t receive a passing score?

  • Proud Alaskan says:

    Yes take your kids out of these Woke schools now.
    Before it’s to late and your kids start Disrespecting you and others

  • Steve Peterson says:

    I have taught at CIA now for almost 20 years. It is a wonderful school with supportive parents and wonderful colleagues. The kids are great too!
    Get your kids out of public school! They are godless grooming institutions. If not a Christian school, then home school them! You will thank yourself for the sacrifices you made when your kids turn out to be be good adults.