Wasilla charter school forges a new financial path to fruition

“Viva Fronteras!”

The shout went up as a lineup of state and borough officials brandishing golden shovels and wearing hard hats posed for videos, as cameras snapped and kids from kindergarten to eighth grade cheered them on.

The excitement is part of any new school project, but what’s not typical about this groundbreaking for the new Fronteras Charter School in Wasilla, is the financial plan. The funding comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development program, not from the state or Matanuska Susitna Borough.

Groundbreaking begins on the Frontera charter school in Wasilla. Photo: Ellen Lockyer, KSKA.
Groundbreaking begins on the Frontera charter school in Wasilla. Photo: Ellen Lockyer, KSKA.

Fronteras principal Jennifer Schmidt -Huchins greeted the children:

“I have to tell the kiddos what an outstanding job you are doing. Kindergarteners, it is your first day, and here you are standing in a gravel pit. Not unlike our current playground. .. (laughter). Good job!”

Attending the groundbreaking was their first-day-of-school assignment. Fronteras serves grades K through 8, and it’s success, and growth, prompted the plans for a new building. Currently, the 270 students are crammed into a church and into portables, and that arrangement is no longer working for the school.

Mat Su School District Superintendent Deena Paramo joined in with a Spanish language greeting.

“Estan listos? Uno mas, estamos listos? ” The crowd cheers. “Muy bien.”

Paramo says a collaboration by national, state and borough agencies made a new and permanent home for Fronteras possible:

“It was funded with public monies.  Other places around the United States have built schools in this manner. It is a lot of work, as anyone know who has applied for a loan, especially with the federal government. But we are just excited, and it is a buen dia.”

Jim Nordlund, USDA Rural Development director says the new Fronteras building is the first publicly financed school in the state.

“And it is also the first charter school that our agency has funded in the state of Alaska. So we are very proud of this day.”

Representative Jim Clover says Fronteras has established the Mat-Su as the leader in charter schools. Colver was a Mat-Su Assemblyman when the plan to use a USDA loan to construct a new school was first put forward. The 12.1-acre site the school will be built on was donated by the Borough, which applied for the the $6.9 million loan for the school.  Fronteras will be responsible for paying it back.

An August 2016, date has been set for the opening of the new Fronteras. As if on a deadline, backhoes and belly-dumps were at work moving earth, even as the groundbreaking ceremony was underway.

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APTI Reporter-Producer Ellen Lockyer started her radio career in the late 1980s, after a stint at bush Alaska weekly newspapers, the Copper Valley Views and the Cordova Times. When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Valdez Public Radio station KCHU needed a reporter, and Ellen picked up the microphone. Since then, she has literally traveled the length of the state, from Attu to Eagle and from Barrow to Juneau, covering Alaska stories on the ground for the AK show, Alaska News Nightly, the Alaska Morning News and for Anchorage public radio station, KSKA elockyer (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8446 | About Ellen