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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide

1953 – 1973

© 2008


We requested of the Mt. Edgecumbe Superintendent, Robin Dean, that I be allowed to report for work in early June, 1958. He replied that I should report in July, or after the beginning of a new Fiscal Year. We therefore arrived in Sitka during the first week of July, 1958. The Mt. Edgecumbe climate was a welcome change from Austin’s subtropical one. My allergies, exacerbated by several plants blooming year round in Austin; the extremely low teaching salaries in Austin as well as other issues, made Mt. Edgecumbe seem idyllic by comparison. The Mt. Edgecumbe-Sitka climate is cool, the locale, beautiful; I was entirely free from allergies and had an interesting teaching job to look forward to; the job would make it possible for me to support my family. The area also turned out to be an excellent place for a family with young children to live.

In 1958 I was not familiar with the negative side of the history of BIA boarding schools. I had experienced and studied the Alaska Native situation and had found very little negativism with regard boarding schools. Obviously, I had not yet had experience in administration of a high school or of a boarding school. I simply took at face value my assignment to teach science at Mt. Edgecumbe. In 1958, my understanding of boarding schools in Alaska came from my study of the history of educating Alaska Natives. Mt. Edgecumbe was the only BIA high school available to Alaska’s village Native students. Mt. Edgecumbe was the primary opportunity for some, certainly not all, Native students to obtain a high school education. This fact represented the positive educational mission of the Mt. Edgecumbe Boarding High School.

I had three main principal tasks before me: (1) to learning about the Mt. Edgecumbe situation; (2) to complete the writing of my thesis; (3) to prepare to teach science courses. I had a great deal to do.

Learning About the Mt. Edgecumbe Situation

I soon understood that Mt. Edgecumbe High School summer, 1958 was emerging from serious administrative mismanagement. Robin Dean, a successful Boarding School Administrator, was new to the school as of the Fall of 1957. William Jackson, the Principal, was new to the School as of mid-year, 1957-58. In fact, the Principal’s position was a new one. I had met Mr. Jackson at the January, 1956 Juneau meeting described above in the Shungnak section. He and his wife were experienced day school teacher/administrators. Alberta Challis was the new Head of the Guidance-Dormitory program. She had been brought in by Mr. Dean and was an experienced Guidance/ Dormitory professional. The School’s authorized enrollment was 660 students. Mt. Edgecumbe High School reported 677 boys and girls enrolled for Fiscal Year, 1959, with an average daily attendance of 651.

Among other difficulties, the Principal and Superintendent were facing a serious battle with teachers regarding basic curriculum change. The Juneau Area Office wanted Mr. Dean to change the traditional BIA high school curriculum from that of a one-track vocational one to a two track one: (1) academic and (2) vocational. The resistance to change was spearheaded by the Commercial Teacher whose advanced business courses had been eliminated. An important innovation to be initiated simultaneously by the Juneau Area Office and the new School Administration was an accreditation effort to be accomplished with the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges. Such accreditation required both teacher and administration certification, neither of which were BIA Federal requirements. The Superintendent, Principal and I were the only Education personnel at the school with Administration certification. I also had both secondary and elementary teacher certification from Texas which certification the Territory of Alaska recognized.

Mt. Edgecumbe Organization 1958
[click on image for a bigger graphic]

The Mt. Edgecumbe Facility

Our arrival had been expected so that we were taken immediately to our assigned apartment, a furnished two-bedroom duplex. We had not received a clea,r complete description of Mt. Edgecumbe and therefore only began to learn about it upon our arrival. Two large Government operations existed on the Islands, the BIA Boarding School and a large 400 bed Indian Health Hospital.

These properties were situated on three main islands, Japonski, Charcoal and Alice connected by causeways. We were told that the Mt. Edgecumbe facility was built by the military during World War II as an evacuation hospital for the Aleutian campaign. Those familiar with the story of Indian Education know that abandoned military bases often “became” Indian school facilities, as was the case for Mt. Edgecumbe.

The BIA had been assigned two large seaplane hangars, the Administration Building, a dormitory-like building which also included a dining hall, a barracks building, a gymnasium, and a warehouse. Mr. Max Penrod was the first School Superintendent of Mt. Edgecumbe. Stories abounded about how he was able to get the abandoned and mostly trashed facility in order for school’s opening. The wonder is that a school could ever have been established in the first place. Military base facilities are not designed for school purposes, and this one was a particularly “hard” case so that trying to fit a school into any one of them has been historically a challenge to BIA educators. I learned that the subject of readying this facility for school purposes could fill a book by itself.

“The Island,” provided free bus service for all residents. I seldom took the bus as the walk to the School was a short one . However, the bus service was heavily used by Island residents generally.

The Federal Government provided an inexpensive “Shore Boat” passenger ferry service across the ship’s channel between Mt. Edgecumbe and Sitka. This Shore Boat ran frequently from early morning until late at night. The trip cost ten cents for a round trip. This serves of but one example of the fact that Government employees on The Island were substantially subsidized. Our original transportation costs were paid from Austin, Texas to Sitka; after two years of employment, vacation transportation, as requested, would be paid, also. Our furnished apartment, as was true at Shungnak, cost $26.00 per month, including utilities. Mt. Edgecumbe also generated its own electricity. using an oil-powered steam turbine also left by the military. In fact, it was not uncommon for Mt. Edgecumbe to occasionally supplement Sitka’s supply of electricity. Cables and a water line had been laid on the bottom of the ship’s channel separating Sitka and Mt. Edgecumbe. We learned about these cables when a local Sitka lawyer’s boat dragged anchor over the cables thereby cutting off phone and other services

It should be mentioned that the BIA, historically, operated other boarding schools in Alaska. Eklutna, located in the Anchorage area, was closed when Mt. Edgecumbe opened. Ironically, a teaching couple at Edgecumbe had transferred from Eklutna. White Mountain became a Day School but was closed in 1970. Wrangell Institute, an Elementary Boarding School primarily for indigent children was closed in 1967.

The Student Bank

We soon learned that one of the School’s serious problems was centered in the “ Student Bank.” BIA boarding schools have a Student Banking system so that students’ personal funds and student activities funds can be secured, deposited and withdrawn efficiently. It is not legal for BIA to collect admissions charges, etc. to student activities, e.g., interscholastic sports. In order for the school/student body to engage in all of these activities which BIA Federal appropriations cannot be used for, it becomes necessary for the school to have a separate and viable student activities which can take in and spend student money. I began to learn about the Student Activities Program when I was assigned was to do an inventory of the Student Store.

The Mt. Edgecumbe Student Bank was an anomaly compared to those of other BIA boarding schools, which banks normally deposited small amounts for individual students. Contrarily, several Mt. Edgecumbe students were full-fledged commercial fishermen, working on fishing boats throughout the summer months. These students arrived at the school in September with several hundred (sometimes several thousand) dollars to deposit. One older student, a Captain of his own fishing boat, came back to school with $20,000 to deposit. He was directed to a commercial bank in Sitka as this sum of money was too large an amount for our Student Bank to handle. In addition, all student activities, i.e. the Student Store, the Bowling Alley, Basketball games, etc., managed by students under the supervision of a faculty advisor, deposited funds in the Bank. The Faculty Advisor, the Commercial Teacher, the same teacher mentioned earlier was the same teacher who was dissatisfied with the curriculum change.

The Student Bank maintained accounts with commercial banks in Sitka and made deposits/withdrawals therein. The commercial banks coveted this business with the Mt. Edgecumbe Student Bank. I soon learned that the Mt. Edgecumbe Student Activities Association kept at least $10,000 in each of the two Sitka banks. These were savings accounts and earned interest income for the Association. The Association was managed by the Student Council, an elected student body.

The previous School Clerk, who was also the Student Bank Clerk, had embezzled student funds. The previous School Superintendent’s sign-off was required on all transactions with the commercial banks. Apparently the previous Superintendent, among other problems, also had a drinking problem. The Clerk would “pocket” some of the student funds and the Superintendent simply signed-off on the deposits of the lesser amounts. An auditor discovered the theft, and which the Clerk immediately admitted what he had perpetrated. The Clerk went to jail; the Superintendent was demoted and sent “south” to a small day school in Arizona. Mr. Dean had not been told of this serious situation until after he had accepted his new position as Superintendent, and had arrived in Alaska.

The Academic Department Head

Speaking generally, at the time of our arrival, I found the school faculty to be in an almost constant uproar. Mr. Dean and Mr. Jackson had spent the year with a Department Head, Academic who was educationally dysfunctional, to say the least of it. Soon after we arrived, this man came to visit us at our apartment. Having entered our apartment and been suitably welcomed, he began speaking, whisperingly, to the effect that he was my immediate supervisor; then, as he moved through the apartment toward the kitchen he began pulling down all of the window shades until he reached the kitchen, and had seated himself at our kitchen table. Seated there, ever in a whisper, said, “You never can tell who might be looking in at the windows.” He warmed to this with us by being critical of all of the faculty and administration by names, most of whom we had not yet met. Eventually he got round to what must have been the real purpose of his visit by explaining that he was leaving on his vacation, and wanted to offer us his home freezer “a necessity for the good life at Mt. Edgecumbe”, and, one he was now prepared to sell us at a rock-bottom price. He had with him all of the documents concerning his freezer, including the original sales receipt. As politely as possible, we refused his offer and a second offer of a excellent wheel barrow. At this point he left; we raised the window shades and welcomed a little daylight.

During the next few days, I learned that the BIA wanted the Academic Head to resign, but seemed not to be sure about exactly how to persuade him to do this. At Shungnak I had experience with the BIA’s persuading the previous teacher to resign . However, the situation at Mt. Edgecumbe was very different. The Academic Head’s immediate supervisor, the transferred Superintendent, had given him good evaluation reports. Consequently, as a confirmed Career Civil Servant he was afforded procedural due process in the face of any adverse action. This fact meant that he could not be pressured to resign in the way that the inadequate teacher at Shungnak had been.

The Academic Head was a genuine eccentric who apparently did everything but pay attention to the job he had been hired to do, i.e. the supervision of teachers and the supervision of the proper education of the students. For example, and all too typically by all accounts, he often rode the free island buses in order to sell tickets to the public to the Students Activities movies. It was clearly illegal to sell these movie tickets to the public, much less for a Federal Employee to “peddle” the tickets on a public bus.

Apparently his idea of teacher supervision was connected, in the main, to the “ care and maintenance” of a padlock on the supply room containing teacher supplies. He was the only person with a key to this small storeroom. Consequently, sufficient paper supplies for the copy machine used to copy lessons for the students were not readily available to all of the teachers. These and other teaching supplies became awards to teachers who would support him and/or do special favors for the Academic Head.

For example, early one rainy July morning as I was mounting the stairs to my classroom, the Department Head, standing at the head of the stairs, wearing a raincoat and wide-brimmed hat pulled down over his eyes said, again in a whisper, “Hey Hopkins, come here.” As I approached, he, moving his head from side to side as if to be sure no one else was near quickly pulled out a new #2 pencil saying, “Don’t tell anyone I gave this to you.” As he scurried away toward his office, I stood for a moment, somewhat puzzled, looking at the pencil, wondering the meaning of it all. Then, it came to me that this kind of behavior perhaps defined the true state of the overall administration of the Academic Department, the school’s largest one.

The Shungnak experience demonstrated to me that the BIA had a number of bureaucratic devices useful in these circumstances. I wondered what might be available to it under these circumstances. I soon learned. This undesirable Academic Head was also a man frugal in the extreme. When he went on vacation every two years he vacated his federally subsidized apartment so that he would not have to pay rent for the absent two months. The two months of summer rent saved probably no more than a total of $120 at the most. On the other hand, the cost of living in the town of Sitka was very high. The man left for his regular vacation time, and, accordingly, vacated his apartment. When he was scheduled to return to Mt. Edgecumbe in late August, he was, accordingly, officially notified that no Government quarters were available, and that he would, therefore, have to live in the town of Sitka during the coming school year. This, of course, he would never agree to do, frugal man that he was. He then applied to use all of his earned Federal Annual Leave and, ultimately, all his Sick Leave, and, in February 1959, resigned, never having returned to Mt. Edgecumbe. The BIA triumphantly ended its serious personnel problem. And I learned another lesson in how to legally manipulate the Federal Bureaucratic system.

After the Academic Head Left; Finishing the Thesis

After the Academic Head left for his “Vacation” in late July, 1958, I was made Acting Department Head, Academic. I learned that the Juneau Area Office, and Mr. Dean, wanted to staff the Administration with professionals with village teaching experience and master’s degrees.

As soon as I was made Acting Head, we were asked to move from our duplex apartment into a small house located on Charcoal Island. At first, we refused to move. Mr. Jackson explained it was mandatory for an administrator to occupy this particular house. (This was my introduction to the perpetual administrative tussle between the School and Indian Health Administrations.) The School, it seemed, would lose the house to Indian Health if it were not occupied by a School administrator. Of course, we moved. The house happened to be best designed and constructed of all government quarters on the Island. A former shop teacher, whose students built a house per year, had the students build it for his own personal occupancy.

The house was especially close to the water. A tide pool was located near our back door, and the front of the house, full of windows, looked out across the ocean toward Mt. Edgecumbe, an extinct volcano from which the school took its name. On stormy days salt spray splashed our windows. The house was well insulated, including the floor and, consequently, was always warm in winter, regardless of wind and temperature. It was heated by a circulating hot water heating system. The house, furnished, all utilities paid, was rented to us for $60 per month.

One of my more important off-time activities at Mt. Edgecumbe became my search for documents that I could use to augment and/or complete my University library research. I found the Anderson and Eells book along with several important BIA documents. I completed the thesis by the end of July and mailed it to my supervising professor, Henry J. Otto. Dr. Otto was very helpful in that he not only approved the thesis, but persuaded a colleague, Professor Kenneth McIntyre, to also sign-off on it, and an experienced typist to type it and return it to Dr. Otto. I was awarded the Master’s Degree in January, 1959.

My master’s thesis served me well from this point on by providing an important context for my work in the education of Native Students. Some minor needs occurred occasionally. For example, in 1960 the Juneau Area Director forwarded a letter from the Pribilof Island public school teachers. They wanted to remove all of the children there from the “bad” influence of the parents. The Area Director asked that we prepare a letter for his signature. (This was the first of many such letters, statements, etc. I was asked to write for upper echelon administrators.) I remembered a Government Report, probably from around 1890, wherein Pribilof teachers asked that the children be removed from their homes. I wrote a letter suggesting to the Pribilof teachers that they adopt a cooperative approach to village education, one which would bring the parents, families, in a common educational purpose. I also, politely, referenced the 1890 report.

BIA Regulations and Administrative Procedures, A Separate School System

In 1958, the BIA was an entirely separate school system. Separate, that is, from public and private schools. Top BIA Education Administrators testified annually to Congress that BIA schools were special purpose schools to meet the “Unique Needs” of Indian children and youth. To be hired as a BIA teacher one was required to have earned a baccalaureate degree. Once hired, a teacher was not required to seek certification. A BIA administrative procedure allowed one to teach science with 12 semester credit hours of science. I had the normally required biology, and had also taken eight semester hours of chemistry, giving me 14 hours of science. According to the Juneau Area Office, and their assessment of my University transcript, this qualified me to teach science at Mt. Edgecumbe High School.

As mentioned above, BIA was beginning to seek accreditation from the Northwest Accreditation Organization (Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges). In order for a school to be accredited, the Northwest organization required it to be staffed with certified teachers and administrators. I was certified in Texas for elementary and secondary teaching and upon completion of the Master’s Degree in School Administration, received Lifetime certification as School Superintendent. The Territorial Department of Education issued certification based on reciprocity certification from other states, which made my meeting of Alaska Territorial requirements a simple one. In the end, I met the administrative requirements of village teaching experience and certification as a teacher and/or administrator.

In addition, all BIA Education employees were Civil Servants. Teachers were at the GS-5 through 9 levels; Administrators at the GS-9 through 15 levels. Unlike public school teachers, BIA teachers were 12 month employees. Teachers also earned Annual and Sick Leave. BIA Education employees could also be given “Education Leave.” Education Leave required that the employee earn one semester hour of college credit for each week of leave. Although twelve-month employees, teachers could and often did combine their Annual and Education leave in order to have several weeks off during a summer.

Later, when the accreditation process was underway, we had to work with an older teacher who first had come to the village of Buckland (by boat) in 1935. She had graduated from a South Dakota college and had not been back to college since that time. Even so, according to BIA regulations, she was fully qualified to teach at any level. She was a well disposed, keenly intelligent person, but was obviously frightened at the prospect of returning to college after having been away for a long time, we simply had to persuade her to get some recent college credit and teacher certification. Had she not been a professionally ethical teacher and desirous of helping us meet the new accreditation goal, we would have been powerless to do anything about it. We would have had to retreat into some other “clever” bureaucratic ploy to try to meet the accreditation requirements. Remember, accreditation by Northwest Association was extralegal for a BIA operated school. It was not required by regulations and/or administrative procedure. This was merely an administrative decision by the Juneau Area Office and the school administration. We did achieve accreditation by the school year 1960-61.

The Curriculum Change

As mentioned above, I was not knowledgeable about the traditional BIA secondary curriculum. However, before being appointed Acting Department Head, I had discussions with the teachers who had remained on-site for the summer. The Mt. Edgecumbe curriculum had been, traditionally, heavily vocational. The Academic curriculum was minimal, the vocational, extensive. Traditionally, the philosophy of secondary education always had been to train Indian boys for blue collar jobs; the girls to be homemakers and, to a limited extent, also for certain other kinds of jobs. At Mt. Edgecumbe, the vocational curriculum consisted of an extensive set of commercial courses from beginning typing to advanced bookkeeping and shorthand. In fact, the commercial curriculum was little different from the one at the much celebrated Federally operated Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas. The new administration had instructions from Juneau and Washington to change the curriculum so that it did not duplicate Haskell’s and to strengthen the academic curriculum.

One can see in this thinking, a reflection of the BIA Education System as a whole. No consideration was given to the opinions of Alaska Native parents, school personnel or economic conditions. Rather, it was a System change decision, involving and related to the BIA post high school vocational school in Kansas. The curriculum change really did not give first consideration to Alaskan Native students’ needs. With no regularly constituted school boards or a tradition of asking families and students what they needed or wanted, curriculum change was mainly an internal BIA issue.

This change was very upsetting to a number of faculty members and, in particular, to the Commercial Teacher who had implemented the advanced courses we were eliminating. He was very aggressive and passed around a petition, obtaining thereon a large number of faculty signatures. The petition stated that the signers were against the curriculum change, demanded a complete explanation of the reasons for it, and reinstatement of the courses eliminated. The Commercial Teacher had also written Alaska newspapers about the curriculum change. Interestingly, the teacher criticized the Secretary of Interior for having allowed this to happen. In brief, the Commercial Teacher, in the absence of strong administrative leadership, had stirred up a hornet’s nest of faculty discontent and was aggravating the situation in as many ways as possible. I was invited to sign the petition but refused to enter into the fray. The Commercial Teacher not only wanted the courses reinstated but to have an additional teacher hired. Not many on the faculty seemed to think that Alaska Native high school students could “ handle” a regular academic curriculum, that these students were, in fact, best suited to study vocational courses. That is, few except the Principal, Bill Jackson, and me. Mr. Dean, an experienced boarding School Superintendent, knew full well what the curriculum change would mean for faculty and students

Obviously, the intention of the Commercial Teacher was to try to reverse the curriculum change. He was a Boston-born African-American man, a very good teacher, energetic, likable, efficient, who simply thought vocational, in this case mainly commercial courses, were best for Alaska Native students. Although he was an outstanding teacher, he was also a loner, and uncooperative. Beginning with the school year 1957-58, as Mr. Dean was taking over, the Commercial Teacher became a burr in the administration’s side.

During the summer on-site teachers might be very busy, usually working on their lessons for the on-coming academic year. However, the summer, 1958 the tail-end of the misadministration, especially that of the Academic Department, the teachers had not been assigned regular work for the summer; the Commercial Teacher used this idle time to build momentum. He planned his strategy brilliantly. What he failed to understand was the essentially non-democratic nature of BIA Education Administration. Government administration is basically, authoritarian, employing democratic strategies only at its pleasure.

After school began, I was the Acting Department Head, the Commercial Teacher, basing his demand upon the “success” of his petition, demanded a staff meeting whereat the new curriculum changes were to be explained, discussed and presumable reversed. In relevant administrative discussion of the situation, Mr. Jackson and I observed that we could see no need for such a meeting, therefore, did not call one. The curriculum change was a “done-deal”. The Commercial Teacher continued to ask, “When are you calling the meeting?” To which question I responded, “What meeting? Are you referring to the weekly Academic Department faculty meeting?” He: “No. the meeting to talk about the curriculum change.” I: “I know of no such meeting.” Soon thereafter several teachers came forward, asking that their names be removed from the petition. Since the Administration did not control the petition, we asked that the teachers simply give us a brief memo stating that they no longer wanted to support the petition. After school was in session and everyone was busy teaching, the petition and the curriculum change became a non-issue.

The emerging curriculum issue was how to strengthen the academic curriculum and to implement a college preparatory track as soon as possible.

The Academic Department

The 24 teacher faculty of the Academic Department of which I became the acting Supervisor was the school’s largest. Classrooms were spread out in three different buildings, considerable distances obtaining between each building. For the current school year, 1958-59, the Academic Department also included three hospital teachers who tutored long-term tubercular patients. At first, because of differing opinions concerning curriculum change, weekly faculty meetings were raucous affairs with frequent outbursts of discord often occurring. I was new to secondary school affairs and the supervision of teachers, and the faculty knew it. What I had, in common with one other teacher, was village teaching experience, which experience even the more experienced high school teachers respected. Some on the faculty also “remembered” that the official Academic Head was on leave, a contributing factor to the tentative quality of the Department’s administration. That is, so the thinking went seemingly, “ If we (the faculty) can put up with this inexperienced upstart until the real Department Head returns working conditions will return to the unsupervised classroom/curriculum status quo all of us have enjoyed during these past years.” I was also the youngest member in the Academic Department.

At the beginning of this first school year, I was teaching General Science half-day while trying to administer a mostly chaotic Academic Department during the rest of the school day. This did not work out well; I asked for and was soon given fulltime administrative duties.

At the beginning of our first school year at Mt. Edgecumbe 1958-59, neither Mr. Jackson nor I had had any school experience in the scheduling of secondary classes. Mr. Jackson had assigned the scheduling task to the Band Teacher, he had worked out a schedule, making band classes available at prime times throughout the school day, a departure from normal practices.

A startling fact, at least to me: Students were not scheduled into classes prior to their arrival at the school. Historically, teachers had spent a full week of school time in the scheduling of students into classes; and a scheduling mode had been used which bordered on being unprofessional, especially insofar as I was concerned, because of the lack of sophistication of the incoming students with regard to subject courses. (This week had also counted as five days of instruction.) The mode of scheduling was as follows: Each teacher sat at a table representing the subjects that teacher taught. The students then moved from table to table to select each particular class. As might be anticipated, teachers vied and competed for the better students. No oversight obtained to determine if the selected class met the student’s graduation requirements. I was determined to see that this unstructured, chaotic, and unfair approach to class scheduling would not occur again. The School Administration became determined to keep a careful and concerned record of each students progress toward high school graduation. This determination began under Mr. Jackson’s leadership during the 58-59 school year.

This first year was one during which we gained control of the School and implemented a structured, professionally caring, and increasingly rigorous academic program. In past years, the academic program had been a tag-along to the vocational program..

A high point of the year was the visit to the school by L. Madison Coombs who had been recently appointed Assistant Area Director for Education of the BIA Juneau Area Office. Coomb’s book, The Indian Child Goes to School (Coombs, et al. 1958), had been published by the BIA Haskell Press. We had received a copy and I had read most of it. The book was the last of three National Indian Education Evaluations. Coombs attended an Academic Department faculty meeting, and made some comments. As he was a well known educator, it pleased the staff to have had him attend the faculty meeting.

In the fall of 1958 the academic curriculum consisted of the following courses:

Four years of English
World History, American History and 1 semester of U.S. Government
General Math and Algebra I
General Science, Biology and Chemistry
Band, Chorus and Art
Physical Education

Mt. Edgecumbe High School also participated in interscholastic boys basketball and track.

Another school problem, one quickly solved, concerned the handling of school supplies and textbooks. As described above, supplies to teachers had been tightly controlled by the now on-leave Academic Head who distributed them arbitrarily. Early on, I had been handed a set of keys one of which was the key to the supply room. When I opened the room, I found it full of all sorts of supplies, from pencils to spirit duplicator paper. The spirit duplicator paper was one of the teachers most desired items. It had always been in short supply, apparently. Having discussed the situation, Mr. Jackson and I agreed to stack reams of copy paper beside each spirit duplicator. On the first day teachers purloined all of the paper, taking it to individual rooms. Once more, we stacked the paper beside the copy machines. This time, only about half of it disappeared. Once more we stacked the paper beside the copy machines; this time no one took it away in order to hoard it in individual classrooms. We had achieved a first-time minor victory in the hoped-for gaining of support for a new teaching environment. Two years later, one teacher actually carried her rather large supply of copy paper back to the copy machine area, saying, “I don’t need to hoard anymore.”

Next came textbooks: There were enough to provide one for each student. But, the past policy had been to provide enough copies for one classroom with no extras for the students to use for homework assignments. The teachers gave various reasons for such a quaint high school policy as, “no homework”. One such: The students would only lose the textbooks, or leave them about to be ruined by the rain. We explained that should either of these things happen, we would order more textbooks. But the real stickler proved to be “homework.” True enough, study places in the dorms were minimal-to-non- existent. Further, the dormitory staff had never been asked to support the idea of homework.

Consequently, we established an evening study hall in the School Library, and the teachers began to assign homework. Since the school budget did not support the monitoring of an evening study hall, volunteers were solicited. There were enough volunteers, including Vinita and I, to keep the evening Library open five nights a week. Mr. Salo, the Librarian, also trained student Library Aides who were then available during the evening study hall time. The verification that homework was being assigned was reflected in the large student attendance at the evening study hall. Actually, there were not enough seats, Monday thru Wednesday, to accommodate the students. Mr. Salo’s aides always counted the number of students present when the evening study hall was half over. Over time, this count became a pride of accomplishment for the school. We were moving gradually toward faculty acceptance and support of the curriculum change, and toward building of faculty confidence in the expectations of Native student achievement and academic success.

After a few weeks of the success of the evening study hall, a curious thing happened in one of the Principal’s administrative meetings of the Department Heads. These meetings involved the Principal, the Home Economics Supervisor, and the boys’ Vocational Program Supervisor and me. The boys’ Vocational Supervisor requested that the evening study hall be closed down. His reason: his wife had complained about the social pressure being exerted because she was not volunteering to monitor one of the evening study halls. The Principal, quietly responded, simply saying, “The evening study hall will continue,” and let it go at that. Afterward, we had to laugh at the preposterousness of this suggestion. The vocational program had always been the ruling segment of the high school curriculum, the loss of the absolute dominate nature of his status, was difficult for the vocational Supervisor to accept. On the other hand, this Supervisor was an outstanding vocational educator and offered his students excellent courses excellently taught. Boys taking the these vocational courses learned job skills well. The boys vocational curriculum included:

9th and 10th grade general skills
Carpentry, wherein a complete house was built annually and moved onto a foundation
Diesel Mechanics, including the complete rebuilding of engines
Air Frames and Mechanics, wherein complete airplane maintenance was taught (this vocational course required that students study algebra 1.)
Basic electrician skills

It became encouraging to note that in reality, the Academic faculty was having very little trouble adapting to the change of policy from Mt. Edgecumbe High School as an essentially vocational school with supporting academic instruction to: Mt. Edgecumbe as a combination academic preparation and vocational school. Once understood as policy this was forgone, the teachers knew how to change teaching pedagogy so that an increased emphasis on academics “happened.”

The Students Arrive

As mentioned, just before the students arrived and school began, I was made Acting Department Head, Academic. When I inquired as to the preparations made for the arrival of the students, I learned that the dormitories had made extensive preparations. The Academic Department had made very few.

A few experienced teachers made it painfully and directly clear to me that they knew I had had no secondary teaching or administrative experience. The communication of these facts “dripped” with condescension not to say barely concealed sarcasm. One fact only remained, one which I tried to keep in mind: the Superintendent and Principal had appointed me Acting Head: I was determined to carry out these responsibilities to the best of my academic training and limited experience, despite of negative teacher attitudes, a temporary one, I hoped.

Beginning with the school year, 1957-58, the BIA had obtained funding for student transportation to and from the school for the school year. This was a great boon for Alaska Native families and students. Remember that, at Shungnak, two Mt. Edgecumbe students returned to the village. One was sent home, at government expense, for misbehavior, but the other’s parents paid for his return. This student might have returned to the school to complete his high school education except that his parents could not afford to again pay for his transportation. This older policy also had meant that most Mt. Edgecumbe High School students had had to remain at Mt. Edgecumbe for four years if they planned to graduate. In the case of the Shungnak student, e.g., he had been away from home for two years; he and his parents quite naturally wanted a home visit for him. They had hoped to find the money to pay for his transportation back to the school, but were never able to do so, although they were a frugal family. Subsistence living provides little extra cash.

Even though the BIA was able to pay for student transportation, each year, to and from Mt. Edgecumbe, important family considerations still intervened. Almost every student entering Mt. Edgecumbe for the first time was also away from home and village for the first time. Each student must remain at Mt. Edgecumbe for the complete nine- month school year. Of course, the parents could visit the school at any time, or pay for a student’s return home visit, but this very seldom occurred. The Mt. Edgecumbe school environment was very, very different in every way from that of family and village. The student was transported away in a matter of hours, from the home environment to the local culture, i.e. that of the multicultural school, and environment of Mt. Edgecumbe. At Mt. Edgecumbe the drinking fountains operated constantly. A not uncommon sight was that of a freshmen student standing pausing, looking with obvious wonderment at the constantly running drinking fountain. The Mt. Edgecumbe/Sitka community is located in a rain forest environment receiving from 60 to 100 inches of rain per year. This climate factor alone upset many students from other areas of Alaska. During the first few months of any school year, dormitory personnel had to deal with homesickness among freshmen students for an array of reasons. For many students, this was a first time for sleeping on sheets, of utilizing flush toilets, and of bathing in showers. This meant that the dormitory staff trained the students to take showers, flush toilets, wash hands before eating, make beds, etc. Attending Mt. Edgecumbe was not always an easy experience for most new students. Not uncommonly a female student might arrive dressed in a new summer calico parka cover for her dress, which they soon discarded as an inappropriate style for Mt. Edgecumbe.

Nonetheless, most students did adjust well and, in time, often became ardent supporters of Mt. Edgecumbe School. This is not to say that home sickness was not a real problem, because it was and as such, it was taken seriously by all staff members, dormitory and teaching/administrative alike. We all had to deal with it, and, personally, I never observed a staff member treating a homesick student with anything but sympathetic understanding.

The Mt. Edgecumbe student body, 1958-59, was a very select group chosen from the total potential Alaska Native high school student population. The village school dropout level was very high; Many villages had offered grade eight for the first time during the years 1945 – 1955. Several of our entering freshmen were the first eighth grade graduates, ever, from their particular villages.

The Daily Bulletin

In 1958, I had just completed two years of teaching at Brykerwoods School in Austin, Texas, having during this time worked under an outstanding principal, J. G. Perkins. My Masters program under a noted educator, Henry J. Otto, had given me an opportunity to take part in a fairly rigorous and comprehensive program of training in Administration; the teaching experience under Perkins was what, nowadays, might be termed an “internship.” Perkins and I were the only males on the staff; because we were, we were not allowed the use of the Teachers’ Lounge. Instead, we used a small office just off the outer office. I point this out because this arrangement allowed me to have almost daily conferences with Perkins about how a school is actually administered. He always made a point of: “Keep the lines of communication open among teachers, students and parents.”

In addition, I was a student of the first University of Texas “Future Education Administrators of America (FEAA)”, a program created by Dr. Kenneth McIntyre. The basic message of the FEAA Program was: That Education Administration is to “ Communicate with Others”. Merging this idea with my theoretical training in Administration, my village experience as Principal Teacher of a one-teacher day school, and my other school experiences, I noted immediately the absence of any sort of communication instrument between the Administration and the rest of the school.

It was immediately apparent to me that daily communication among the Administration, the faculty and the students was not taking place at a level necessary to the definition of a unified school. An important need; Some sort of daily communication instrument useful to the administration, the Staff and the students of the school. If we were going to successfully and consistently implement the new focus on the academic curriculum, communication among all faculty and the administration, especially, had to become a priority.

I remembered Mr. Perkins arriving at the school at about 6:00 a.m. each day to begin his diligent work on the writing of a “Daily Bulletin”; one we then found in our teachers’ mail boxes as we arrived for work. I did not plan to arrive at Mt. Edgecumbe School at 6:00 a.m., but I did think a Daily Bulletin was needed. I therefore initiated the typing of and distribution of the Mt. Edgecumbe High School Daily Bulletin; it appeared, during the first week of school. Originally, it was meant for the Academic teachers. But, I also included therein school-wide matters important to everyone. At first, Mr. Jackson denigrated the Daily Bulletin as a probable waste of time and energy. However, shortly, he began sending school-wide items to my office for inclusion in the Bulletin. By the half-year, he suggested it be issued from his office.

Mr. Jackson required that the class schedule include a Home Room period to be scheduled for the first fifteen minutes to half-hour of the school day. He asked that the teachers read pertinent Daily Bulletin items to the students during Home Room, and that the Bulletin be posted on all School Bulletin Boards. Dormitories also received copies of the Bulletin. File copies of the Bulletin became important to the documenting of important school activities. I should have kept copies of the Bulletin, but did not, as copies would have been helpful to refresh my own memory about Mt. Edgecumbe School. Researching the Bulletins issued between the Fall, 1958 and later years might help institute an interesting historical look at the school during its special student Selective Era.

The Student Council

One of the first extra curricular duties I was assigned was the sponsorship of the Student Council. Originally, I had no idea how much of my time this sponsorship would involve. The Student Council sponsored the Student Store, student dances, bowling alley, admission, and concessions at basketball games, etc.

I soon learned that the Superintendent thought of Student Council monies as a ready slush fund to support school program activities which Federal appropriations, by law, could not. I had not been aware that the BIA had initiated, and the U.S. Congress passed, legislation and Regulations authorizing the BIA to manage student funds. In fact, the Statute and Regulations never were brought to my attention. I learned about both after I had left Mt. Edgecumbe. The Mt. Edgecumbe Superintendent, as an experienced BIA boarding school administrator, knew student-funds management but, for the first time, at Mt. Edgecumbe High school, was required to stay within the bounds of the new-to-him Federal Regulations requirements.

It was one thing to be sponsor of an ordinary student club, and another to be sponsor of such an important fund-raising, legally established, student organization. During the summer, the Superintendent had purchased and installed a new public address system in the Girls Gymnasium-Auditorium where the student body, and the girls’ Physical Education classes met. Based on past experience, he felt he had the authority to sign a check to spend the necessary money for the public address system. The money was spent about the same time the Federal Statute and Regulations were being promulgated. In reality, legally, without the Student Council’s prior formal approval, the Superintendent did not have the authority to purchase and install the new public address system, even though it was used exclusively for student activities.

I was assigned to deal with the “problem” vis a vis the newly and democratically elected Student Council. As I was fundamentally committed to the democratic process, I could not in all fairness, otherwise approach the Council about the Superintendent’s actions. At the first meeting of the Council I submitted the documents, told them that the system had been purchased and installed without their approval, asking that they now consider the matter, and decide whether or not to approve the action, after the fact. As had been my custom with the Shungnak Councils, after presenting the problem, I left the room saying I would return within fifteen minutes; during this time the Counsel members were free to discuss and take action on the purchase/installation issue. Fortunately, they decided to then approve the purchase and installation. The President of the Council simply said: “We think the new Public Address System will benefit all students taking part in all activities in the girls’ gymnasium-auditorium.”

During the following school years, the Student Council sponsored regular Saturday night dances in the girls’ gym. Vinita and I always attended the dances. In the main, we remember the dances with pleasure. However, during one school year, one girls’ Dormitory Aide persisted in making a regular practice of walking around the outer edges of the dance floor, while shining the beam of an enormously long flashlight into the faces of couples that she considered to be standing too close together. We finally complained to the Dormitory Head about the practice, asking that it cease. I pointed out ,that, to my direct knowledge, no couple had ever engaged in obscene activities on the fringes of the dance floor. I assumed and suggested that the purpose of the flashlight routine had been the prevention of such activity. I explained that I was willing to support any reasonable purpose for such a procedure. But, that, as a sponsor of the dance, I felt fully capable of monitoring student behavior without the assistance of the flashlight wielding Aide. The aide was asked to cease and desist, which she subsequently did.

We were pleased to observe that the severally elected Student Councils behaved very responsibly with respect to the issues they originated as well as to those brought before them by others, including individual students, student groups, faculty, other staff ,and the Administration. Throughout the five years I was the sponsor, I always exited the meeting when an issue I thought sensitive to the Administration was brought forward. They did not always decide in favor of the Administration, but the Council did decide the issues. For a short time the sponsorship of the Student Council had been confusing to me, but, quickly, it became a coveted and cherished assignment.

Report Cards

Before the days of automation, how were Mt. Edgecumbe report cards handled? Fortunately, a semblance of a procedure existed so that the new Administration needed to make only a modest improvement.

As the traditional report card form was examined, it appeared to have had five parts: (1) Student Name (2) List of Subjects, (3) Grades (4) Attendance and (5) Parents’ Signature. Traditionally, the report card is returned to the teacher after the parent’s signature. While Mt. Edgecumbe could print a report card, teachers produce grades for subjects, for obvious reasons, the parent’s report card role was not a possible one.

Mt. Edgecumbe School had purchased a multilith machine of professional quality. The Academic Secretary, Vivian Cleaveland, had been trained in the operation of the machine, and had printed up long, detailed legal-sized report card form, reflecting each subject taught at the school. The procedure is described on pages 20-21 of the “Mt. Edgecumbe Teacher Handbook,” 1959 edition.


1. Report Cards--Report cards are circulated every nine weeks and sent immediately home to the parents. Procedure for report card day is outlined below:

A. Each student will be given three report cards in first period class. The student should at this time, place name, grade and the date ending the quarter in spaces provided at the top of each report card.

B. The teacher will place the quarter and semester grade (if semester grade is required) on each of the three report cards, using the system outline below:

Plus Grade .............A+
Whole Grade .............A
Minus Grade .............A-

C. During the seventh period the students should:

a. Address an envelope to their home address.
b. Write their name on the outside of the envelope in the lower left-hand corner
c. Place one report card in the envelope and give the other two to the teacher,
d. Place the letter from Mr. Jackson in the envelope along with the report card,
f. Give the envelope containing the report card to the seventh period teacher also.

D. During the seventh period the teacher should:

a. Supervise students to make certain that report card instructions are followed.
b. Gather the report cards and arrange alphabetically envelopes, as well as the two copies separately.
c. Arrange the two copies separately and in alphabetical order,
d. Turn in the envelopes and report card copies to individual Department Heads

E. Physical education grades should be obtained at the girls or boys gym during the period which is usually taken up for physical education or study hall.

2. Grading System—The grading system is traditionally based on the A through F letter placement, with A being highest and F being failure. The ratings are numerically based as follows:

A.................................. 94-l00
B................................... 86-93
C................................... 78-85
D...................................... 70-77
F...................................... Failure
I...................................... Incomplete

If possible, a teacher should avoid giving the "I" grade and issue either a passing or failing grade. Whole year courses will be given one final grade, no half credits will be issued, excepting in half credit courses.

At the close of each quarter there is a "Failure List" submitted to the Department Head by each teacher. Students reported as failing are contacted and much effort is expended to help them raise their class standing.

The “Failure List” was a meaningful document to the student body; no student wanted his/her name to appear on this List. School counselors and I met with each Failure List student and his/her teachers to work toward the student’s academic improvement.

In addition, each teacher submitted a Student Grade Form (ME-15) at the end of the school year. The bottom of each page of the Form blanks were left for the Teacher’s name, subject, period and school year. This Form was also included in the Handbook, pp. 88-89.

Mt. Edgecumbe Teacher Handbook

By the end of the academic year 1958-59 I had completed the Teacher Handbook. Previously, no Handbook existed. School administrative routine tasks requirements more or less floated around in the ether. ( While I did the compiling and Vivian did the printing, official credit for the compiling of the handbook went to Mr. Jackson the School Staff and me.) Actually, the Handbook, of 105 pages, is an accurate description of the operational procedures of the school. The Handbook was created as follows: The various topics and procedures were placed in a folder as they occurred during the school year. At the end of the year, Jackson and I went through these materials and decided which deserved to be a part of the Handbook. I then did the appropriate compiling and wrote the supporting narratives. About twenty pages of the “Teachers’ Handbook,” are Appendix A.

Standardized Testing Program

Soon after I became Acting Academic Department Head Mr. Jackson assigned me the task of developing a standardized testing program for the school. From the teachers I had learned that the school had used the California Achievement Test, High School Battery. Currently, no IQ test was being used. I could find no record of test scores having been entered into Student Permanent Folders. The teachers told me how the tests had been administered during the previous year. The Department Head Academic distributed the tests at a certain faculty meeting, telling the teachers to administer the tests to students at the end of the school day following the last class. As I looked over the test form, adding up the timed segments, I found that the time required a full day and one-half to administer properly. The test scores from the previous year, if they existed somewhere, therefore could not be accorded validity and/or reliability. One teacher told me he allowed only one hour for the students to take the test. In fact, in previous years, the Academic faculty viewed the Achievement Test Taking as a joke.

As I mentioned above, Coombs’ book on the testing of BIA Indian students came out in 1958. His discussions, as well as my experience in the testing of Barrow students, had taught me that standardized instruments must be used with caution with American Indian students. The BIA evaluation reports all indicated such necessary cautious use of the tests; as well as no-use of the test’s (norms) statistics, all of which are based on the test use with students culturally different from American Indians and Alaskan Natives. Mt. Edgecumbe would use the California Achievement Test (CAT), but it fell to me to determine how best to use it effectively as the achievement test program for Mt. Edgecumbe High School.

The Academic Office possessed a book from the Minnesota Department of Education on Education Evaluation. It contained a reasoned discussion of education evaluation and various statistical procedures. I read and thought about the total evaluation program before describing the procedures on the use of achievement tests, including other standardized instruments. At that time, Fall 1958, there was little, if any, pressure on BIA school administrators to report evaluative data. The BIA Education Program Evaluations were available to anyone interested in the quality of the program. No pressure was exerted on Mt. Edgecumbe, or on me, to produce any evaluation data. Fortunately, my Master’s Degree (Education Administration) program, more especially the FEAA program, taught the importance of generating and reporting evaluative data, as did Perkins at Brykerwoods School. Therefore, I was determined to develop a total testing program, and to report data generated from it. As it turned out, developing such a program was solely my responsibility, and whether I did, or did not, made little difference to my superiors. I had the single assignment of administering the California Achievement Test, the scores of which would eventually become a part of the student’s “ Permanent Folder.” In so far as the school was concerned, the CAT program, strictly speaking, only for the Permanent Folders. Fortunately, I was not required to produce a written testing program; I was a new and very busy administrator assuming responsibility for a Department that, in past school years, had been educationally, sorely abused and poorly administered.

In order for the achievement test program to be activated, the test itself must have a set date/time period, and an effective method of following test manual procedures. I spoke with the principal, and we agreed that a two-day time period would be needed for the administering of the tests. This required the principal to “sell” the two days to the Dormitory Head, Miss Challis. She agreed to the two days, although her Dormitory Staff did not like this arrangement. The testing would not take two full days of instructional time, so that the students would be given short days of instruction (test-taking). Working with the students on these two short days was a challenge the dormitory staff did not want to accept but experienced personnel accustomed to these kinds of days, i.e. holidays, this really was not a huge problem for them.

Another important decision pertained to when to do the testing. Based on my own experience, test scores will be higher when the tests are administered in the Spring. At the time, professional evaluators thought testing in the Fall provided more accurate scores as the decline during the summer results in more realistic scores. I agreed with the Fall testing time and this is the time we chose. We chose two days in early October, after it was felt the students were well settled into their classes, to administer the tests.

We carefully instructed the teachers as to how the CAT should be administered this year, 1958. We had ordered the carbon answer sheets so that it would be easier for teachers to score the tests for each student and thereafter, to turn in the answer sheets. I was very anxious about how the first testing would go because past practices loomed large in my memory. I visited all of the classrooms during the first hours of testing and, sadly, discovered two teachers ready to allow the students who finished one test to continue with another, and another. I challenged these teachers telling each to please be strict in following the CAT instructions. Both responded by saying they thought the test useless and had one thought only, namely, “to get them over with.” Consequently, during the rest of the two days of testing, I visited the teachers often, but fortunately, found that all had begun following testing instructions.

Reporting the tests results was the next issue confronting me. I had decided to follow the recommendations of the Minnesota manual and report scores based on the statistical median for each grade. The school had no computers in those days so statistical output involved the use of a combination of manual and desktop calculator manipulations. I took home the stacks of class score sheets and sorted them by grade, and, using an adding machine-calculator, totaled the scores according to the test, “Grade Equivalent” scores, calculated the medians for each grade. (The Minnesota manual agve the statistical formula for calculating the median.) I planned to plot the median scores on a single page for each grade, and then, at the end of four years, to illustrate four years of testing for this grade on a single page.

It was also importantly helpful that the student dropout was minimal, probably not more than five to 10 percent annually. Returning students predominated. This meant that we were testing, mainly, the same students each year. In other words, there were so few new students in each grade (10, 11 and 12) each year that the test scores would not be statistically influenced by the changes. The importance of the fact of the the selected, high academic caliber of the students was reflected in their continuing in high school until they graduated. Selecting students is a well-known way of improving test scores. Figure 1- 4 are the annual report of the California Achievement Test for 1961.

12th Grade Achievement Test Report, 1961
Figure 1 – 12th Grade Achievement Test Report, 1961

11th Grade Achievement Test Report, 1961
Figure 2 – 11th Grade Achievement Test Report, 1961

10th Grade Achievement Test Report, 1961
Figure 3 – 10th Grade Achievement Test Report, 1961

9th Grade Achievement Test Report, 1961
Figure 4 – 9th Grade Achievement Test Report, 1961

Achievement Test Uses

After the first successful year of testing, fall, 1958, test scores were used the following summer to help place ninth grade students. I met with the ninth and tenth grade teachers and, together, we assigned the students appropriate classes. We used achievement test results, IQ test scores, teacher grades, and teacher assessments of the motivations of each student. The stronger academic students were placed in second-year algebra, or in plane geometry. We placed all of the lower achieving students in the same classes. This worked to the satisfaction of the teachers who were assigned the stronger academic students. They spoke highly of the students’ academic efforts and generally positive attitudes. But what of the teachers who were teaching the students achieving at the lower level? While we did not “advertise” the nature of the new tracking system, it was not long before some students took note of it and began to comment negatively. This, among other factors, resulted in some bad classroom behavior in the lower achieving classes. Almost from the beginning teachers complained about the classes so much so that, by the end of the first semester, we dissolved this lower-achieving group, scattering these students among the mid-level classes. This experience served as a real lesson to me about the “tracking of students.” We professionals knew how to rank students and how to do a commendable job of it, only to discover that the original idea might, sometimes turn out not to be such a good educational idea after all.

Look at the bottom of the page of each report above one can see not only statistical data but a succinct description of the basic achievement test program. Looking at Figure 1, one can learn more about the dropout rate. The 1961 twelfth grade enrolled 176 1n 1958 and graduated 136 in 1961. This reflects a 22.72 percent dropout during the four years. Theoretically, dividing 22.72 percent by four produces an estimated drop per year of 5.68 percent. These statistics, of course, do not tell us where the non-returning students went from Mt. Edgecumbe. Surely some of them enrolled in other high schools while some may have stayed home to help their families with the work of subsistence living, or for other reasons.

Again looking at Figure 1, one sees a very wide gap in the Math Fundamentals stats between 1961 and the previous three years. We had been told by Haskell Institute, then a post high school vocational school, that the Edgecumbe students were low achievers in math. The Principal discussed this situation with me. I looked over the math course offerings in detail and the California Achievement test Math test results. At that time, high school graduation required General Math, or one other course in high school math. For the vocationally bound student this meant, usually, General Math, only. No math courses were offered for these students beyond General Math. I talked this situation over with the Principal and the Vocational Shop and Home Economics Department Heads. We thought additional courses could then be added as electives, and that vocational students urged to take these courses before graduation. The Shop Supervisor added Shop Math, and the Academic Department added Business Math and a course entitled, General Business. We persuaded enough eleventh graders into these courses to raise the Math Fundamentals median scores for the entire class. This must surely have helped those students attending the Haskell Institute as we heard no more staff complaints of Edgecumbe Students’ having low math test scores.

Later, probably in 1968, the BIA Education Assistant Commissioner contracted with Clark Abt to study the BIA Education Program. Abt was supposed to produce a “ Systems” approach to the management of the program. When Abt visited Mt. Edgecumbe School, he was given the School’s achievement test reports. He immediately assumed that all BIA high schools produced similar annual reports. (Phase I of his work was to learn what was available at the schools.) He soon learned that, in fact, the Mt. Edgecumbe Report was the only such report available within the entire BIA system.

IQ Tests

The history of administering IQ tests to Indian students is replete with many admonitions toward caution from professional educators, all of which are related to the obvious language and cultural differences between the developers of the test and those of the students who take the test. In the course of researching my thesis I had read the sections of the Anderson and Eels book, and of their difficulties in trying to use a regular IQ test. I was determined to so use a non-verbal IQ test. The professional literature indicated that, statistically, the non-verbal tests were weak instruments. Nevertheless, the Lorge-Thorndike Non-Verbal IQ Test was selected for use at Mt. Edgecumbe as at least a better such instrument for our purposes than a verbal one would have been. The following is a report I prepared in 1960 which contains IQ data, and a description of an application of Professor Charles Ray’s DIQ.


The attached report was compiled with the following purposes in mind:

(1) To give the staff of Mt. Edgecumbe High School a general idea of the achievement test grade placement of each class. (2) To provide general information for the Mt. Edgecumbe High School Staff about the 1960-61 freshman class. (3) To serve as background information to help fulfill item seven under GOALS DEVELOPED BY THE MT. EDGECUMBE STAFF (School Administrators Plans) of the 1960 “Guidance Workshop” report. The goal states:

7. To initiate a study of the curriculum by the departments, in order to adapt it to the specific needs of the Mt. Edgecumbe students.

(4) To provide information for field offices who will be receiving applications from adolescent boys and girls desiring to enroll in the Mt. Edgecumbe High School for the coming school years. It is hoped that these graphs and in some way measure up to the intentions stated above.

Graphs I, II, III and Table I have been divided according to the elementary school locality of the student . For instance, the Wrangell group represents primarily those students from Barrow who attended and graduated from the eighth grade at Wrangell Institute. Other students who graduated from the eighth grade at Wrangell Institute are included but the Barrow students predominate in numbers. The remaining divisions are according to Area Field Offices or the Area Office through which boarding school students initiate their applications. In most cases the students have received their elementary education in day schools located within the various areas. These day schools are operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the State of Alaska or are Johnson-O’ Malley contract schools.

The age analysis was undertaken because many implications may be noted if the size of the various age groups within a class is known. The Ray Report of 1958 has this to say about high school age students who enter Mt. Edgecumbe High School: *

One of the most striking associations discovered in the Mount Edgecumbe study pertains to the relationship between age and dropout. As the student’s age upon entrance into the freshmen class increased, the likelihood of his completing high school decreased.

Information concerning the age of the freshmen class is contained on Graph I and in Table II.

Table II gives a breakdown of the size of the various age groups within the freshmen class. It should be mentioned that the average age of the entire class was 15.89 and the median age was 16. As can be seen by Table II, 145 of our 199 freshmen students are sixteen years of age or younger. Indications are that the more successful freshmen student will be in this age group.

Table I, the DIQ information, is based on a formula devised by Dr. Ray * in his 1958 report. The DIQ takes into consideration overageness and achievement test scores to give a statistic that will aid in showing the educational development of the group. A brief glance at the table indicates that Wrangell Institute and the Nome Area students rank high and are our better-prepared students. The Bethel score indicates that there has been considerable educational growth in this area when it is compared to the DIQ given in the Ray Report of 1958 for the eighth grade. The Southeastern DIQ is quite puzzling in view of the fact that the Ray Report of 1959 has this portion of Alaska ranked highest. It should be mentioned that Mt. Edgecumbe is now getting very few students into the ninth grade from Southeastern Alaska because of the increased number of ten-year schools in this part of the state.

The Lorge-Thorndike Intelligence Test, Nonverbal Form, was used for the freshmen class. According to the testing program worked out by the Juneau Area last year this is the only I.Q. test to be administered to students during their high school career. It is realized that I. Q. tests are culturally slanted and that, in many cases, nonverbal tests leave something to be desired. However, considering the bi-lingual background of the majority of our students, it was thought that the nonverbal type of I. Q. test would be more valid than one that depends even more basically on the English language and urban cultural life.

The test manual cites the following information concerning the I. Q. test:

About 68 percent of all I.Q. scores will fall between I. Q‘s of 84 and 116 (about 2 out of 3). About 14 percent will fall between I. Q. scores of 68 and 84, and about l4 percent between 116 and 132, and only 2 percent will fall below 68 and 2 percent above 132.

Accordingly, the median I. Q. for the freshmen class is 97 with 74 percent making between 85 and 114, 17 percent making lower than 85 and 9 percent with I.Q. scores of 115 or higher. The highest I. Q. in the class was 129 and the lowest was 52. Graph IV gives the I . Q. distribution for the freshmen class in which 77 (38.7 %) of the students have an I. Q. of 100 or better.

Graph III gives a picture of achievement test scores for the freshmen students from the various areas. Here, as in other illustrations, the students from Wrangell and the Nome Area rank highest and Southeastern students are lowest.

The achievement test graphs represent a continuing study and comparison of achievement test results based on the median grade placement of the annual fall testing. The freshmen class of 1960, though It is a large class, tests out much the same as the 1958 and 1959 classes and would in all probability have tested higher than the 1957 freshmen class (The 1957 class was also large but median scores for the sophomore year [1958 when I took over the testing program] indicate that they were by and large lower than the 58, 59 or 60 freshmen group.) It will be interesting to observe the achievement test scores of the seniors of 1962 as it will then be possible to show median scores for them for the fall of 1958, 59, 60 and 61.

In summary it can be said that our students are arriving at Mt. Edgecumbe at a younger age on an almost annual basis . This is encouraging as a lower dropout rate between the freshmen and senior year can then be anticipated. The group as a whole should do well in high school work at Mt. Edgecumbe High School.

The students coming to Mt. Edgecumbe from Southeastern Alaska schools are by and large the poorest students and, in many cases, are not capable of doing high school work. Many of these students therefore become dissatisfied with high school and are a poor influence on some of their better-equipped companions. It is difficult to place a seventeen or eighteen-year-old student in a high school program when the student has an I. Q. of less than eighty-five and can barely do fifth grade arithmetic. It is hoped that the assistance being given Alaska by Chewawa Indian School will help alleviate this situation.

Table I

Table II

Graph I

Graph II

Graph III

Graph IV

Student Discipline

The Academic Head was given the responsibility for student discipline in all Academic classrooms and adjacent areas outside of those classrooms. Physically, this area included all of the School’s instructional areas. Because we were a “selective” admission school, student misbehavior during classtime was virtually nonexistent. Or, at least, minimally so. For example, during five years, I intervened in only one fight, and that between a male and a female student. The female student, an exceptionally bright person, was manipulating a fellow student from her village. She was “playing upon” his “ superstitions”. When I arrived at the classroom door, he was transfixed, had doubled up fists, and was ready to strike the girl. The girl was cowering, back against the chalkboard. I entered, speaking calmly to the young man; he gradually became calmer, quietly leaving the classroom. Knowing the girl well, I took her to my office for a one- on-one conference. I asked her to tell me her version of the incident. Haltingly, she told me what she had done. We reached an understanding that she never again was to “toy” with the basic religious beliefs of a fellow student, however “odd” those beliefs might have become to her.

Another incident involved an Eskimo sophomore girl and her English teacher. The teacher came to my office with the girl, saying he did not want her to remain in his classroom.. He said she would not behave well or do the work she was supposed to do. Saying no more, he then left; I talked with the girl. I had learned from village experience that most Eskimos had a well-developed sense of fair play. The student claimed that the teacher had acted irrationally and unfairly toward her. She was quite willing, she said, to perform normally in his class. However, she said she would never apologize to the teacher because she considered herself to have been treated unfairly by him. She said he was unwilling to listen to her side of the story. I removed her to a third floor separate alcove, telling her to report there during her English class period until she was willing to apologize to the teacher. As I had expected, after more than a week in the alcove, I simply placed her in another English class, after which placement all went well. She was basically, an excellent English student.

Teacher Evaluations

Shortly after the first of the year, 1959, the former Academic Head exhausted all his leave and resigned from the BIA, I was made permanent Department Head, Academic. This set the stage for what the Principal wanted to do to continue to strengthen the School’s education program. High on the list of these tasks was an annual, official, Evaluation of Teachers by each Supervisor. In preparation for this odious, but essential, task I had spent several hours visiting each classroom so that I would have the necessary data for my evaluations. The Principal co-signed all evaluations; his original instructions to me were: Be stingy with praise this year. Fairly evaluating 21 teachers, without any extra help, was a very time-consuming responsibility; yet, it was a key factor in our gaining the kind of administrative control which ultimately led to a smoothly operating high school.

I spent many hours visiting classes, and, for each evaluation category, wrote narrative to support the score the teacher received. Using a portable typewriter, I wrote almost all of the narratives at home, after hours or on weekends. The teacher responses varied from smiles, to no-comment, to rage.

For example, the Commercial Teacher, who had circulated the petition on curriculum change, had an advanced Bookkeeping class with two students enrolled. He seldom worked with these students, spending most of this classroom time in the Student Store where he was Faculty Advisor. I noted in his evaluation that he did not spend enough of his time teaching, and that his primary responsibility was teaching, not the management of the Student Store. He replied that, since I was not qualified to evaluate his “high quality teaching”, my evaluation of his teaching was of no consequence. He informed me that he would spend as much time as he wanted to in the classroom and/or the store.

The Chemistry Teacher, an exceptionally bright, but a very eccentric person, flew into one of her not exceptional, loudly expressed rages. She had a volatile temper and tended to have regularly expressed temper tantrums. She shouted, “I have an I.Q. of 160, and no one in this Administration, especially you, Mr. Hopkins, is qualified to supervise me. You are all intellectually inferior to me.” More later on the Chemistry Teacher.

An English teacher screamed at me that I was too young, (I was the youngest person on the professional Academic staff) to supervise her. According to her, she had never in all ofher 25 years of teaching received such an insulting evaluation. Her teaching was of the highest quality, she told me.

The General Science teacher, a man nearing retirement age, had had to be awakened during classtime following the lunch break. He and his class were allowed an after-lunch nap. This naptime, per my visits, would often last the entire class period. During one period, as I walked into the classroom, he was gently snoring, I shook him awake to the high merriment of the entire class. I recorded these observations to accompany his evaluation, which observations he did not dispute, of course. He merely said, “Well, Mr. Hopkins, I will retire at the end of this school year, meanwhile I and will try to do better”.

The Art teacher was a taciturn World War II veteran pilot, who volunteered that he had piloted the plane of Dutch royalty during the war. He was, generally, a rather sour person, and often adopted an unpleasant manner toward the students. His total class load for an academic day dwindled to seven students. Considering the fact that no small amount of artistic interest, and rather unusual level of natural art talent seemed to exist among the student body, it was all too obvious that he must not doing an acceptable job. I so evaluated his teaching, he in turn said he would leave at the end of the year.

In time, after some of the problem teachers voluntarily left, or were forced to leave, the teacher evaluations became less contentious but remained a labor intensive task, as they always are, for any conscientious Supervisor.

The Commercial Teacher’s Fate

As noted above, the Commercial teacher was a rather self-important person and, while a very good teacher, a difficult one with whom to work with. His recalcitrant attitude had surfaced after Mr. Dean arrived at the school in 1957, and had continued after Mr. Jackson and I arrived in 1958. A great deal of evidence development to demonstrate his uncooperative behavior was done by me and other administrative staff, and presented to the Juneau Area Personnel Officer. She prepared the Termination papers necessary in order to fire the Commercial Teacher. I delivered the Termination letter to him immediately after the last day of class. And, ironically, later that same day, delivered his ten-year Civil Service pen. Ultimately, the Termination “stuck”, but not because of the preparation of the case against him. He lost because his lawyer failed to meet the deadline for submitting an Appeal. The Personnel officer said that, had the deadline been met, the termination-upon-appeal might well have been overturned. He was, overall, a ten-year, Veteran, Civil Servant. The Commercial teacher’s position was filled by the transfer of Arthur (Art) Patterson from Intermountain School in Utah. I mention his name, Art, as he found a home in Alaska. He was an Economics major with Teacher Education credit sufficient for certification. He was also an outstanding teacher who consistently challenged his students understandings beyond the mundane. Eventually, promoted and transferred, to the Juneau Area Office as Economic Development Officer; he eventually moved to Fairbanks, where lived until his death.

The Chemistry Teacher

The Chemistry Teacher is briefly described in the Teacher Evaluation Section. One might say that her own reference to “my genius” touched only the surface of her eccentricities. Her volatile temper was a distinctly serious classroom teaching problem: For example her temper tantrums in class in response to student behavior of which she did not approve were extreme. Example, if her students seemed to have misunderstood an explanation she thought very clear, and she then presented an additional explanation to help them achieve the requisite understanding, this understanding must then be adequately reflected by the students, or she would fly immediately into a rage. Since my office was a short distance down the hall from the chemistry classroom, I could walk quietly to the classroom, stand in the doorway and observe the frightened and cowed students. When I did, upon seeing me, she turned a reddish purple in the face, would clamp her mouth tightly closed the while visibly shaking, and remain so until I left the doorway.

I set up a conference with her during which, without much of a prelude, I told her that in my opinion, because of her volatile temper, she should not be teaching Alaskan Native students. I further informed her that each time I observed an exhibition of temper in her classroom, I would make an official record of it. She could either control her temper or, in time, she would be fired. My blunt language created an immediate temper tantrum response, of which, however, she managed again to control. Her face turned beet red, contorted, and, in an outraged barely controlled voice, she again explained that I was not qualified to supervise her, whereupon she stormed out of the conference.

However, our conference did help to moderate her temper tantrums within the classroom. On one subsequent occasion, when I heard her voice rising, I walked along to the classroom, to stand in her doorway. Seeing me, she turned toward the chalkboard, grabbed onto the chalkboard tray, clamping her lips together. She stood with her back to the class until she had gained sufficient control of herself to face the students, after which I walked away.

This teacher’s eccentric behavior was shown in other ways. One morning she came to class wearing her dress on wrong-side-out. Some of the girls in the class noticed, telling her so. Glaring at the students, she rushed angrily out of the classroom to the girls restroom, changed her dress, returning then to the classroom. In a haughty manner, and in a mostly angry voice, she said, “Now, is this satisfactory?”

On another occasion I was called to the Superintendent’s office for a meeting with several of the Island’s (Mt. Edgecumbe) top Administrators i.e.. the Medical Officer-in-Charge of the Hospital, the Supervisor of Maintenance, the Principal, as well as the Superintendent’s secretary. It was explained to me that the R.N. nurse who shared a bathroom with the Chemistry Teacher at the residence for unmarried Federal employees, had written a memo suggesting that this teacher’s personal bathroom habits were, “ Filthy” and a health hazard.

The meeting of the Administrators was called in order to discuss the problem, and to find a solution to it. The Administrators, suited out in black suits and ties, left the Superintendent’s office, climbed into requisite black sedan, and drove to the government-owned living quarters in question to inspect the relevant bathroom. They concluded that the Chemistry Teacher did, indeed, “keep” a filthy bathroom. The Administrators returned in their black sedan, going back to the Superintendent’s office; the Superintendent dictated a memo, one going “through” the principal to me, and, ultimately, to the Teacher. The memo described the filthy, jointly-used bathroom, and instructed her to clean it up. I took the memo to the teacher, asking her to read it immediately, which she did. After doing so, she glared at me, immediately rushing out of the classroom and the building. In a high walk she went, directly to her quarters (approximately half a mile away), and cleaned the bathroom; afterward, she never used it again. From that moment, until she left Mt. Edgecumbe, she used a public bathroom, one located in the same building.

During the rest of school year, the Chemistry Teacher wrote long, typed memos to me which she slipped under my office door during the evening hours for me to discover as I came to work in the morning. These were common place occurrences and the memos were well-written. The gist of most of them dealt with her thoughts about how the school should be run, and emphasized her perceived ideas about the general incompetence of the Administration, especially that of Mr. Jackson and Mr. Hopkins. Fortunately, on one such morning I walked into my office to find her memo of resignation. She explained that her resignation was temporary; that she would return to the school in a position of greater responsibility after the Superintendent, Principal and myself had left the school, which she thought would be soon. As soon as she arrived at work, I hurried to her classroom with an official form for her to sign in order to put an official seal on her resignation.

During the school year the Principal had obtained her Official Personnel Folder (OPF) from Juneau. Having read it, we asked ourselves, “How could Personnel have made an offer to her in the first place?” She was a chemistry major, with no Teacher Education courses to her credit. She had requested permission to ride a bicycle from Beacon, New York to Sitka. In a calm and reasonable manner the Personnel Officer had written back a long, detailed letter, recommending against the bicycle trek because Mt. Edgecumbe was located across the harbor from Sitka. Further, that Sitka was located on Baranof Island which is a part of the Alexander Archipelago and that as there were no roads over the Coast Mountains, biking would not be practical. A few years later I discovered that this same Chemistry Teacher somehow had gained access to the Soviet Union and was living with the Chukchees in far Eastern Siberia. In fact, she had written an article for an international education journal about her experiences there.

Interscholastic Debate

Early in the 1958-59 school year we received an inquiry from the Southeastern Alaska Interscholastic Association inviting Mt. Edgecumbe’s participation in interscholastic debate competition. Should we accept the invitation this would represent another “first” for Mt. Edgecumbe. I thought this an excellent opportunity to teach logic in reasoned disputation to interested students. I discussed this opportunity with an English teacher who agreed to be the sponsor, so that we accepted the Southeastern Association’s invitation.

Our entering into debate competition is another example of the kind of program change then taking place at Mt. Edgecumbe. Several teachers expressed skepticism about Edgecumbe students’ ability to debate. One in particular, an older member of the faculty who had had Alaskan village teaching experience and had come to Alaska on the old North Star supply ship, 1928, expressed the belief that Alaskan Natives had not “evolved intellectually” to the point required for debating. I tried to explain to this teacher that Alaskan Native students are as capable intellectually as any other group of U.S. students. Though technically, a perfectly adequate teacher, she was, as J. Frank Dobie of The University of Texas often said of an individual, “a provincially enculturated ethnocentric”.

In time, the Debate Team became a very important activity for some of the most academically interested students. When the Mt. Edgecumbe Debate Team began debating, the students really did not understand the basic purpose of reasoned disputation. For example, although their opening speeches were well-prepared, their rebuttals to opposing teams opening gambits were prepared before-hand and read to the opposition. Often the rebuttals were unrelated to the opposing team’s speech’s. During the first debate the Mt. Edgecumbe team presented their written before-hand rebuttals. This was puzzling to the opponents from Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan. But, this was true for the first debate season, only. This first debate season taught the Mt. Edgecumbe team the “ point” of reasoned debate, and it never again presented a “prepared” rebuttal.

In time, one of the Mt. Edgecumbe’s debaters placed second in the Southeastern Conference ratings, becoming a feared opponent. She later graduated from the University of Wisconsin School of Law. As the Mt. Edgecumbe Debate Team evolved and matured, we sponsored Debate Meetings with other schools; and the activity became a valued part of the school program.

Mt. Edgecumbe Boys’ Basketball and Physical Education

Boys’ Basketball was an important student activity, having been proven as an invigorating one to the Mt. Edgecumbe High School “school spirit”, as well as an important sports activity. Coach McGillis, an American Indian from a Midwestern tribe, was a conscientious professional and holding his team, always, to the highest ethical and physical standards. This overall professional attitude was reflected in the team’s pride and accomplishments, and by its one year participation in the State Championship Finals.

Basketball games were played in the old seaplane hangar, that was part basketball court, part physical education facility, and part instructional classrooms for the Academic Department. The hangar was the largest gymnasium-type building in Southeastern Alaska. When Mt. Edgecumbe played Sitka High school, the Shore Boats ran extra boats; the Island was crammed with the extra Sitka citizen spectators, all of whom the hangar easily accommodated. All games were raucous occasions, but on every account, well-behaved ones.

The Edgecumbe student body was loudly enthusiastic, its cheer-leaders very energetic. It was always pleasant to observe the student body competing equally and often advantageously with all of the non-Native schools. The dormitories were mostly vacant during a boys’ basketball game. Unfortunately, there was no girls’ interscholastic basketball at that time.

There were not too many professional journals available at Mt. Edgecumbe. The Phi Delta Kappan and the National Education Association Journal were available. I was a member of the Phi Delta Kappa professional fraternity, and a life-time member of the NEA, receiving both of these publications. At that time, NEA Journal was sponsoring a national physical education program for boys performing all sorts of physical activities. I enrolled Mt. Edgecumbe Boys Physical Education classes in this national competition, giving Mr. McGillis the record keeping forms required for each boy. He saw the program through to the letter of the requirements, keeping detailed accurate records. He sent these records to NEA headquarters; the magazine ultimately reported, along with comments doubting their accuracy, that Mt. Edgecumbe had the highest scores in the U.S. I did not doubt their accuracy for our young men were all from rural areas requiring that quality of physical prowess and stamina necessary to subsistence living. With my Barrow and Shungnak experiences, I knew how young boys began chopping wood and driving dog teams, trapping and hunting at very early ages. I did not find it surprising that given this background and the added regular diet of a boarding school, their general physical education results were higher than those of urbanized students in the South Forty-Eight.

The Higher Education Situation for Natives, 1958-59

As described above, the curriculum change at Mt. Edgecumbe which the new administration implemented created a college bound track. This was done without any research base or the involvement of Native Alaskan parents in the decision. The decision was made by administrators in Juneau and at Mt. Edgecumbe. Two, Bill Jackson and I, of the four key administrators had village experience. We four had absolute confidence in the intellectual capabilities of Native young people to be successful in college. We knew that if we did well at our job at Mt. Edgecumbe, the students would do well in any college or university they might choose to attend.

At the time, The University of Alaska, Fairbanks was the only Four-year higher education institution in the Territory, soon-to-be State. Dr. Wood, President of the University, traveled around the Territory/State, and was a supporter of Native Alaskans attending the University at Fairbanks. We were told by University representatives that there were just a few, perhaps 5 – 8, Native Alaskan students presently attending; also, that usually they were early dropouts. In my opinion, the university culture of that period was not overtly welcoming toward Alaskan Native students, so that they, in turn, felt “unwelcome”. Dr. Wood and Dr. Charles K. Ray worked to change this condition. Dr. Ray had completed his doctoral studies at Teachers College, Columbia, where he did extensive work on Alaskan Native intelligence and achievement. His DIQ creation is referenced above. With these two providing leadership, and Laura Jones of village teaching experience, as Registrar, the campus “climate” began to change. It is worth noting that, in 1958, there was as yet no four-year University in Anchorage. Anchorage Community College was its only post high school higher education institution in the city.

Basically, BIA Education policy was set by Congress, and was, primarily, still, vocational education oriented. Mt. Edgecumbe’s curriculum change, officially, did not have the support of the Washington Office of BIA. Those of us in Alaska did not let this deter us as we thought ourselves unique; of necessity not closely related to the mode of operations in the lower forty-eight. At that time the main post high school program supported financially by BIA, was not a higher education program. This program, the “ Relocation Program,” enrolled Natives and Indians in a vocational program. The Relocation Program was always sited in a city, i.e. Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, etc. The BIA paid travel expenses, per diem, and rent expenses while the participant attend the vocational training which was also paid for, and found a job for the trainee, and provide financial support until they were on their own. The Relocation Program also provided a rather complete set of counselors who provided moral support for the trainee. But, Insofar as a college education was concerned, the BIA only loaned the student money, and from that point on, until death, hounded the student for repayment.

I had my confrontation with the Fairbanks Relocation official in connection with the 1963 University of Alaska summer program for Natives. The Relocation people, without notifying me, set up conferences with the college-bound students, trying thereby to entice them into the Relocation program. Unfortunately, they were often successful with some of students, especially with one young man with a particularly outstanding academic potential Off he went to electronic vocational training for the RCA Distant Early Warning (DEW) system. The heavily financed Relocation program remained a thorn in Education’s side for years to come. It was frustrating to talk to the young people about the merits of a college education; and to have to answer their questions about financing with, “BIA will lend you some money”. The Relocation Program still exists, today, 2008.

* Ray, Charles I., A Program of Education for Alaskan Natives, University of Alaska: 1958, pp. 140- 148.

* Ibid. p.99.

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Last modified March 17, 2008