Aerial view of Unalakleet. There is mountains in the distance with water in the forefront. Buildings line the coastline. It is winter and snow is covering the ground.

This year’s Regional Educational Attendance Area (REAA) election on Oct. 5 sees a race between five candidates for REAA II’s Bering Strait Section IV Seat H. Seat H is the only seat in Section IV up for election in 2021.

Four of the five candidates: Alice Fitka, Charlie Fitka, Virginia Washington and incumbent Anthony Haugen all emphasized different goals and priorities. KNOM was unable to get in touch with the fifth candidate, Richard Elachik Sr.

Alice Fitka, a resident of St. Michael, had a list of changes she’d like to see in the REAA. Among these, she voiced an interest in making the teacher’s living quarters more comfortable and seeing the region’s teachers get more involved in their communities. She also desires to listen to teachers and communities to understand how they want to see funds appropriated, and to approve communication between teachers and parents.

Above all, Alice Fitka would like to see a stronger, more solidified bilingual program in the area.

“I think that all the bilingual instructors in this region should all be on the same curriculum and teaching the same things and working with the community’s most dominant language since they are teaching the language of reading and writing,” Alice Fitka said.

Alice Fitka’s husband, candidate Charlie Fitka, also from St. Michael, makes the emotional and intellectual wellbeing of REAA’s student body the focus of his campaign. In particular, Charlie Fitka is interested in instating more Native Alaskan history, cultural and language education into the REAA’s schools. He set language programs as a priority.

“The kids are crying for their language and for their culture. When I attend AFN [Alaska Federation of Natives Convention], I noticed that it’s statewide. We are finally trying to teach their language, but it’s a slow process,” Charlie Fitka said.

Charlie Fitka hopes that his initiatives would help children in the area “feel better about themselves.” He noted that low self-esteem is a problem in the region. 

Fitka also lamented the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down the good the school system can do for the children in the area, but he believes that things are looking brighter as time goes on.

Candidate Virginia Washington, from St. Michael, emphasized the importance of COVID-19 safety precautions, but believes in keeping schools open as long as it is safe. She mentioned restroom sanitation as a safety measure that could be improved in the area. Aside from COVID-19 safety measures, Washington had a few changes to make to the student body’s homework schedule.

“To work in the classroom and not bring the work home. Because I believe that the children need space when they go home to rest and enjoy their freedom and to do as much work in the classroom as they can and not bring too much homework,” Washington said.

She believes that the schools, when they are in session, should prioritize education above all else. If misbehavior should get in the way of learning, she believes the area may need to look into implementing a behavioral health class.

Incumbent Anthony Haugen, running from Unalakleet, also emphasized the importance of teacher housing. He sees improvement in teacher housing as a way to attract and keep good, qualified teachers. In addition, Haugen believes that the former state retirement plan for teachers was better. This plan, which allowed teachers to retire under defined benefits, was instrumental in attracting good teachers to the state of Alaska, according to Haugen.

Haugen is satisfied with both the job the REAA has done in the past and with the COVID-19 safety measures the area has taken. However, he lamented the way the state handles funding and suggested that the state’s flat funding approach needs to change.

“Flat funding can be seen as a decrease in funding with increase in costs throughout the district and within the schools. So, essentially, I would say that along with teacher salaries and housing and such like that, I think increasing that distribution in that manner would do well for our rural Alaskan school districts,” Haugen said.

Haugen expressed the hope that the state would consider increasing educational funding.

The REAA autonomously operates and manages all the public schools within their region. 

The five candidates running for Section IV seat H, represent the communities of Unalakleet, Stebbins and St. Michael. Residents from these communities can vote for this seat on Oct. 5, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Image and top: Ariel view of Unalakleet. Photo courtesy by KNOM. (2019)