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Denali schools superintendent can carry a tune, make a point

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Posted: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 12:36 am | Updated: 11:55 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

DENALI PARK, Alaska — Denali Borough School Superintendent James Elliott may not sing much, but he can crank out attention-getting lyrics.

Such was the case when local student musicians performed “Chain of Schools” at the Alaska Association School Board statewide meeting in Anchorage recently.

The song was set to Aretha Franklin’s famous “Chain of Fools.”

But the content was a little different. It was a parody of No Child Left Behind, a federal education law that is controversial in Alaska.

“NCLB is a perfect example of why Alaska suffers from the typical one-size-fits-all mentality,” Elliott said.

There are 31 criteria schools must meet to make “adequate yearly progress.” But many schools are labeled unsuccessful because they fail one or two criteria, mainly because of students with disabilities or limited English proficiency.

The playing field between urban schools and rural schools is not a level one and Elliott made that quite clear in his song.

“Now the prez wants schools to race to the top

But for Alaska it’s one big flop

Cuz common core standards we won’t adopt

Chain, chain, chain, chain …”

 “More credits — four science and four math says our Gov

His performance scholarship will give

Underperformers a shove

No math and science teachers as in-school resources

Just give rural students online courses

Chain, chain, chain, chain …”

 Tri-Valley School is particularly sensitive about NCLB because it failed to meet AYP last spring.


Because 16 motivated and successful students were representing the state of Alaska at Dance Excellence, an international dance convention in Los Angeles. As a result, a handful of students were not in Healy to take the tests, plunging the participation rate.

The question lingered. Should they have passed on this once-in-a-lifetime experience to ensure a happier statistic?

According to Elliott’s song:

 “Those Tri-Valley students got a lifetime chance,

Represent Alaska in national competitive dance.

School’s SBA results are great, but failed to make

Participation rate.

Now, you got us where you want us.

You treated us mean, oh you treated us cruel.

Chain, chain, chain, chain, of mislabeled failing schools.”

Erin Kelahan

The first time I wrote about Erin Kelahan, she was 2 1/2 years old, recovering from some broken bones.

Now she is a grown woman of 24 years, who just survived a head-on collision in Phoenix.

This would be terrible for anyone.

But it is especially bad for Kelahan, who suffers from what is called Brittle Bone Disease or osteogenesis imperfecta.

This is a condition the young woman has lived with since birth.

When I wrote about her in 1990, she wasn’t even 3 years old and had already broken her arms three times and her legs 10 times. Her bones are fragile and her life has been a struggle of continually breaking bones, one after another.

Nevertheless, she has always persevered and strived to live a full and satisfying life.

She succeeded in that, but was between jobs when another driver crossed the center line and slammed into her in Phoenix, Ariz., breaking 24 of her bones, including five fractures in her pelvis. She has no health insurance.

Kelahan’s aunt is DeAnn Brooks of Healy and her grandparents are Ron and Karine Dane of Denali Park.

To see her story, watch this YouTube video, created by her aunt, or go to

She is out of the hospital now and beginning extensive physical therapy near her home in Prescott Valley.

A fundraiser will be held in Fairbanks, by the Farthest North FOOLS from 4-8 p.m. Sunday at the Loyal Order of Moose 98 at 10th Avenue in Fairbanks.

Erin’s parents live separately Outside now, but her mother is from Cantwell and her father, Tim, worked in both Healy and Fairbanks. Tari Kelahan was my scrapbook guru when she was here so long ago and Tim Kelahan operates The Rescue Company and regularly travels to Alaska to teach swiftwater rescue and other classes.

“Erin is the most determined person we know,” said her parents. “Before this accident, she was fully an independent individual.”

“Erin is a little person with a huge spirit.”

For more info on the fundraiser, call 452-7500.

Cover Man

Check out the handsome fellow on the cover of “North of 60 Mining News.” It is Thomas Take of Healy, whose job is to repair tires at Usibelli Coal Mine.

According to the caption, Take holds one of about 4,500 high-paying mining jobs in Alaska. “An employment forecast published by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development in October pegged the state’s mining sector job growth from 2010 to 2020 at

19 percent.”

Littlest Baby

Elle Shreeve is not only the newest resident of Healy, she is also the smallest. Born just about a week ago, she was premature and weighed 1 pound, 4 ounces.

Parents Sterling and Courtnee Shreeve are at her side and have been able to hold her for periods of time.

The community is pulling for little Elle, who is gaining weight slowly as the days go by.

Snow Sport

Only In Alaska would I drive down the hill on a wintry day to haul water for my house and run into my neighbors playing badminton out in the snow.

“It’s perfect,” they told me. “There’s no wind today.”

I just love my neighborhood.

Kris Capps is a freelance writer. Her column reporting Denali happenings appears weekly in the News-Miner. She can be reached at

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