Welcome to the Bering Strait School District!
You are about to begin an adventure such as you have never encountered before. You will become immersed in another culture and in a part of the world unlike any you have ever known. Your need for self-sufficiency will become evident. You will be called upon to assume responsibilities usually delegated to others in places where human resources are less limited. The experiential base of your professional life will be measurably broadened. You will be challenged professionally to utilize your skills, wits, and creative ideas to meet the educational challenges faced by you and your students. Through it all you will gain a sense of satisfaction for doing a job well done. As a result of your time here your growth in your professional skills and abilities will become self-evident. Because of the smallness of the community and the school, you will almost immediately recognize the impact you have on the students. There is nothing more rewarding for educators than knowing you have made a difference in the lives of your students. You will be able to see that here: both in the classroom and in the community.
As a new employee in our school district, you are most likely going to encounter many personal and professional transitions in the months ahead. The purpose of this manual is to provide you with some information that you can read ahead of time to ease those transitions somewhat. As you get to the end of your first year with us, please let us know what additional information could have been included here that would have helped you so that we can do a better job of welcoming new staff each and every year. The absolute best thing you can do, however, is to contact returning staff members from your school. If you are reading this and still do not have any contact information from the school you are joining, please call the main number at our district office at 907-624-3611. There will be people working in our district office all summer long and we can help provide some numbers for you.
In case we forget to mention it anywhere else, one item you should bring with you is a sleeping bag. You will definitely need one at least twice in the month of August as you come to the New Teacher Orientation in Unalakleet and then attend one of our pod staff development in-services in one of the other communities. For in-district travel, it is quite common to stay in the school, so this does not have to be a -30°F sleeping bag, but should be one that packs up rather small.
Welcome again to the Bering Strait School District. We hope you are as excited for the year ahead as we are about you becoming part of our district. Remember, if you are having any difficulty getting in touch with people from your site, contact the District Office at 907-624-3611. We look forward to seeing you in August.
Moving to Alaska
Save for extreme cases, most people simply mail everything they need up to their community. Unless you have contacted returning school staff and they have helped you make alternative arrangements, we recommend you mail your packages to the school in care of yourself. For example, if you worked at the school in Shishmaref, you would address everything to:
Your Name Here
c/o Shishmaref School
Shishmaref, Alaska 99772
You can begin sending things up as soon as you are hired and continue to do so during the summer as there are school staff picking up mail all during the summer break. In most cases your boxes will be stored at the school until your arrival, but staff may actually store them in your housing unit. Most villages offer mail service at the USPS office 5-6 days a week. In general the address format listed above will be enough to get your packages safely to school. If you would like to contact your site or desire a more specific mailing address here is a list of School Addresses and Phone Numbers.
You definitely want to be aware of the fact that it can take 2-3 weeks for boxes mailed parcel post from the Lower 48 to arrive in our communities (even longer for Diomede). You can certainly mail things priority mail, but you pay a premium for that – better to get organized and mail things early. As for the weight of your packages, there are two schools of thought. The first being that the fewer boxes the better. There is some mathematical reasoning to back this up as well: it is cheaper to send one 40-pound box than two 20-pound boxes. Mind you, as long as it meets overall dimension criteria, the USPS will accept packages up to 70 pounds. The other school of thought is that it is likely a lot easier to get your package to the post office you are mailing it from than it will be for you to get it home in the village. Another consideration is that the heavier the box, the more awkward it is to handle and the more opportunities it will get dropped somewhere along the way (a LOT of people will handle your box from the time it leaves your community until it arrives in Savoonga, Wales or St. Michael). Folks in this camp shoot for boxes between 35-45 pounds knowing that they ultimately have to haul them all once they get to their village. Tape is cheap, much cheaper than replacing items that get lost when boxes explode for one reason or another. You also want to label your boxes clearly.
Flat Rate Boxes
The USPS has two sizes of flat rate boxes that are free to obtain and have only a $10-15 (depending on size) shipping fee (Fees periodically increase. Check the USPS flat rate page for current pricing.) no matter how heavy you pack it. I think there is a 70 lb limit. We have been doing a lot of shopping in the lower 48 where canned goods and such can be found on sale and shipping these to the village. One of these boxes can hold quite a few cans. Yes, this does mean you will have more boxes but the savings can add up. We compare this to stopping in Anchorage, paying higher prices, paying for a motel, and still paying for shipping. We think we might be saving some money and avoiding a big hassle. The postal clerks always comment on how much money we are saving when they weigh our boxes. We ship our larger, much lighter items the normal way and those boxes end up costing so much less without all the heavy items.
While several carriers come to Alaska, most of our staff soon begin flying with Alaska Airlines and their travel partners to build up frequent flyer miles. You can contact Alaska Airlines 800-426-0333. Once you get to Anchorage, staff who live in the southern part of the district (Stebbins, St. Michael, Unalakleet and Shaktoolik) have the option to fly into Unalakleet via Ravn Alaska, while those who live in the rest of the communities normally fly to Nome via Alaska Airlines. Once you are in either Unalakleet or Nome, you will need to utilize one of our local carriers to get to your community. You always want to personally verify your flights to Nome, Unalakleet and the village. Flight schedules change and it is your responsibility to keep track of this information. It is always a good idea to make your reservation through the Nome office of all carriers. Local carriers are:
Bering Air - serves all 15 communities in our district
800-478-5422 (Nome) 907-443-5464 (Nome) 907-624-3175
Ravn Alaska - daily flights from Anchorage to Unalakleet
Depending on the community and the flight, you may be on a plane which seats anywhere from 5 – 19 passengers. Planes may be single or twin-engine and some are turbine powered. You definitely want to be aware of baggage restrictions. Alaska Airlines and Ravn Alaska allow you to check two pieces which may not exceed 50 pounds each, while most of our regional carriers allow you to check 50 pounds total. Anything above and beyond that is considered excess baggage and you will have to pay between 60-90 cents per pound to take that baggage to your village. You obviously want to carefully consider what you are taking on the plane with you. Though you are certain to get sick of hearing it, all our travel is weather permitting. Flights can be cancelled for a variety of reason in any season: icing, fog, whiteout, mechanical, etc. There is no use getting upset because it will not make a difference. The pilots who fly in our region are very competent professionals. When they say they are not going to fly due to weather or that they are holding for weather to improve, just accept their decision. Most returning staff leave themselves an extra day when traveling in or out just in case delays occur.
Passing Through Anchorage
Every community in our district has at least one grocery or multipurpose store and many have more than one. Keep in mind that everything has to be flown in and this will affect both availability and price. Prices in your community stores are at least 50-75% above what you might pay in your hometown. Most of the stores work hard to keep produce and dairy items in stock, but these are popular items and they tend to go fast. Meat prices are also very high and the selection generally limited. In general, the individuals responsible for maintaining the stores in each of the communities are very accommodating and will order items they do not generally stock if you ask them. While many people in our communities do shopping in Anchorage and order things through the mail, we still recommend that you do some of your grocery shopping through the local stores, if for no other reason than it gives you more exposure to the community. It is good public relations for you to support local businesses to some degree and it gives you opportunities to meet more people in a setting other than the school.
Both Hanson’s (907-443-5454) and the Nome AC (907-443-2243) in Nome will help you set up accounts and will ship your groceries to you via one of the local air carriers. Recognize that all their stock is also flown in. Their prices may be a bit lower than what you will see in your community stores, but they should have a bit more available.
You can also set up accounts with Costco in Anchorage or Span Alaska Sales in Washington state. Both allow you to shop via the mail, fax, or internet and they box and mail your purchases. Fred Meyer now also ships to rural Alaska. They are fast and efficient and charge the same prices they do on the floor of their stores in Anchorage. They charge actual postage and a 10% handling fee that is very reasonable given how well they pack things and how quickly they get things out the door. In Unalakleet I normally receive my order within 3-5 days. They do a great job packing things up and it is very rare that anything is damaged in transit.
You will likely want to wait until you get to your community to order from either of these suppliers. It is likely there will be catalogs or flyers available around the school and it is quite normal for staff to get together in the early fall and make large caselot orders from these places to share. There are also at least two Anchorage sources that our staff use for meat orders:
Mr. Prime Beef 7521 Old Seward Hwy, Anchorage, 99518 - (907) 344-4066
Wayne’s Meat Market 1021 W Northern Lights Blvd, Anchorage, 99503 - (907) 561-5135
Another option that many in rural Alaska take advantage of is Full Circle Farms in Washington State. They are a CSA and ship fresh fruits and vegetables to rural Alaska. They have outstanding customer service and understand that weather can play a part in the quality of items shipped to rural Alaska. If any damage is done to your produce, Full Circle has a top-notch customer service.
Most community members have signed up for Amazon Prime to take advantage of the bargain shipping deals.
Unless you have made other arrangements, all teacher housing is either owned or leased by the district and then leased back to staff at a subsidized rate which includes utilities. There are some villages where you can find homes to rent that are not run by the district. Shishmaref is the only community left in our district in which teacher housing does not include