Alaska News Nightly: August 16, 2012

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Environmental Groups Ask For Further Study Of Chukchi Sea Coral

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Environmental groups are asking the Interior Department to take a closer look at the abundant corals found on the Chukchi Sea floor. The soft, pink coral is one of the most common species in the area where Shell is planning to begin exploratory drilling later this year. But Shell and the Interior Department say the coral has already been well documented and no further study is needed.

New State Forest Proposed In Susitna Valley

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The state division of forestry is proposing the creation of a new state forest in the Susitna Valley, mostly on the West side of the Susitna River. State forestry officials outlined the idea at an informal presentation in Palmer.

Alaska Schools Waiting To Be Excused From ‘No Child Left Behind’

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

The state of Alaska next month will ask the federal government to approve new education standards to replace the so-called No Child Left Behind program.

The state has requested a waiver from the federal law, which has vexed educators for a decade. State education officials are now in the process of adopting new assessments to replace Adequate Yearly Progress.

Alaska’s Adequate Yearly Progress report for the 2011–12 school year came out earlier this week. Once the waiver is approved, Alaska will no longer have to meet AYP as defined by federal law, says Eric Fry, spokesman for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

“If we’re granted the waiver, this upcoming school year would be the last year which we follow the AYP system. That would go away and we’d have our system, which would have to be approved by the federal government,” Fry says.

Under federal law, a school fails to meet Adequate Yearly Progress if it falls short in just one category. Schools also are not recognized for annual improvements. Fry says the accountability program Alaska is designing would treat each school individually.

“One of the things people didn’t like about the law is that it seemed a draconian way of dealing with schools that might be doing rather well, but are falling short in one or two areas,” Fry says. “In the draft proposal that we’ve put together, all of that would go away and instead we would ask schools to aim toward reducing their non-proficient students by half over a six-year period so each school would have its own target based on where it’s starting now.”

Schools would be ranked on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest. Fry says each level would be marked by a star.

“And so the public would see very quickly how their school is doing. And if schools are stars 3, 4, or 5, they’re doing rather well, so we would ask them to look at their students and see if they have achievement gaps: Are there subgroups of kids who are not doing as well as other groups, such as low-income students, or students with disabilities? Then the districts would have to work with their schools on improvement plans,” he says.

The lowest achieving schools in Alaska number about 60, Fry says. The state education department would step in to work with the districts to raise the achievement levels in each poorly performing school.

“At any given time the state might be actively working with the districts on maybe the 50 to 60 lowest-performing schools,” he says. “Meanwhile the districts wouldn’t be off the hook for helping non-proficient students, but you wouldn’t have this draconian system of consequences that are triggered by any little thing, and you wouldn’t have the same consequences no matter what the real situation is on the ground. So we think of it as a more realistic system of accountability.”

Before the U.S. Education Department will waive No Child Left Behind requirements, the state has to show that Alaska standards for reading, language arts and mathematics will prepare students for college and a career. The state Board of Education recently adopted such standards. Fry says the board believes federal education officials will approve Alaska’s standards.

Robots Offer New Medical Care Options In Remote Communities

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The next evolution of telemedicine is employing robots.  A project presented at last week’s International Conference on Circumpolar health in Fairbanks showed how a remote control robot is helping patients in the Canadian arctic.  Rosie the robot offers a new option for medical care in isolated communities.

Voice of ‘Pocahontas’ Launching Film Production Company In Anchorage

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Inupiaq Yup’ik actress Irene Bedard, best known as the voice of Pocahontas in Disney’s animated classics series, is returning to Anchorage, where she grew up, and launching a film production company.

Berries, Trash Blamed For Bear Problems On Popular Fairbanks Trail

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Berries and trash are blamed for bears that have approached hikers on the Granite Tors Trail near Fairbanks.  The popular 15 mile loop in Chena River State Recreation Area has been the location of 4 bear human runs ins this summer, including an incident this past weekend in which a black bear ripped a hole in a tent.

Forest Service Seeks Information About Stolen Cedar Planks For Trail Project

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The U.S. Forest Service is asking for the public’s help in solving the mystery of the stolen cedar planks.

In March, the Forest Service and Juneau Snowmobile Club stashed five caches of rough cut, yellow cedar along Douglas Island’s Dan Moller Trail. The lumber was to be used for a plank replacement project starting this month.

But when crews went to retrieve the wood, Forest Service Recreation Program Manager Ed Grossman says planks had been stolen from three of the five caches.

“It was special order product out of Icy Straits Lumber, expensive, naturally rot resistant and not easy to replace,” Grossman says. “And we’re just saddened by it, because it’s obvious what it was for.”

Grossman says about a dozen planks are missing, each one about 12 feet long and weighing between 40 and 70 pounds. He thinks whoever stole them must’ve done so before the snow melted, using snowmobiles.

He says the Forest Service would like to hear from anyone with information about the thefts.

“Old growth yellow cedar is nice stuff. You could plane it to make various woodworking products around your home, or use it for decking or something along those lines,” he says. “So, it should be something that would standout, especially that hauling of it out of there.”

The stolen lumber has an estimated value of $527 dollars.

Grossman says part of the plank replacement project will be delayed until next summer. And he says instead of using snowmobiles to transport the materials, the Forest Service is likely to commission a helicopter, which is more expensive.

Artist In Residence Sets Gates of the Arctic to Music

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

America’s National Parks Serve as a back drop for some of the United States’ best known artwork.  Much of that work was created long before the National Park Service established an ‘Artist in Residence’ program. One man has just completed his fourth residency in Alaska and his ninth in the United States.  KUAC’s Emily Schwing caught up with Stephen Lias in Bettles to find out how he turns a backpacking trip on the arctic tundra into a classical music composition.