In 2008, Sata Frolov, a 1991 graduate of Nikolaevsk School, traveled from Oregon for the 40th anniversary of the predominantly Russian Old Believer village east of Anchor Point.
“Always show Nikolaevsk pride,” Frolov told those gathered at the May 2008 event. “You have an awesome school here. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
The village’s first school was a 28-by-8-foot mobile home in which 14 desks were arranged. Bob Moore, the school’s principal from 1970 until he retired in 1993, recalled a time when enrollment outnumbered the seats available and students sat two to a desk. Organizing the day in shifts — older ones taught in the morning, younger ones in the afternoon — helped alleviate some of the crowding before the current building was constructed in 1981.
The school celebrated its first graduating class in 1982, with Alex Kalugin the only high school senior.
“He was class valedictorian. He was class salutatorian. He was the class dunce,” Bea Klaich, a former Nikolaevsk teacher and organizer of the 40-year-reunion, said at the time.
Today, the K-12 school has 67 high-performing students whose test scores secured the school’s five-star rating in the state’s Alaska School Performance Index (see sidebar, this page). The school’s mission, displayed for everyone entering the building to see, describes its philosophy: All Nikolaevsk students will be college or career ready upon graduation: able to adapt, communicate, collaborate and think critically so that they may be productive global citizens.
The Fefelov family is an example of that mission put into practice. Nikolaevsk graduate Vitali Fefelov attended Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., graduated in 2013 and currently works as a paralegal in a Washington, D.C., law firm. His brother, Mark, also a Nikolaevsk graduate, will graduate from Georgetown this year. Their sister, Vera, is a ninth-grade student at Nikolaevsk.
“My brothers really opened my eyes,” said Vera, of an alternative to what she observed in Nikolaevsk in the past. “Most kids graduated from high school, if they even finished high school, and got married, and fishing was their source of income.”
The Fefelov family also fishes, but Vera said her father has encouraged his children “to get a good education. So, it’s because of my brothers and dad that I’ve got a steady head.”
She also credits family vacations with opening her eyes to the world beyond Nikolaevsk.
“We’ve been to Hawaii, Mexico, Jamaica and D.C., and when I was younger I thought it was fun to get to go somewhere, but recently my dad told me the reason he took us was to open our eyes, to show us that we can be anything we want if we really tried,” she said.
Vera plays basketball and, as a member of the Nikolaevsk Warriors girls team, has been able to travel to other parts of the state. She has a 4.0 grade point average and, although uncertain what area of study she wants to pursue after high school, is already considering universities to which she wants to apply.
“Even though we’re small, the academic part of it is really good,” Vera said of Nikolaevsk School. “We have one-on-one with the teachers and they can help you based on your abilities and know how to challenge you more. Some kids aren’t as advanced as others, so the one-on-one is what stands out. And it’s like a family here.”
Second-grader Ely Campbell, 7, has been at Nikolaevsk since he began kindergarten. Technology keeps him interested in school.
“My favorite thing is computers,” he said, adding he also liked to write poetry “about myself.”
His classmate, Karl Anfilofieff, also is into computers, while Karl’s sister, Amelea, 9, enjoys reading.
When students were recently offered an opportunity to pick a fun activity, they asked to visit Principal Mike Sellers’ house. A Clam Gulch resident who makes the daily commute to Nikolaevsk, Sellers has horses, a popular attraction for the youngsters.
“And I got to ride one,” said Amelea.
Sellers spent seven years in the Northwest Arctic Borough School District before coming to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. His first assignment on the peninsula was a two-year stint at Port Graham and Nanwalek, two schools accessible only by air or water on the southern tip of the peninsula.
“But I wanted to get on the road and closer to my wife,” said Sellers, whose wife, Kristie, is the head of behavioral health services at Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna.
The Sellers have two children, Beverly, in the ninth grade, and Mike Jr., in the sixth grade. They attend Nikolaevsk, making the commute with their father.
Sellers said the number of students at Nikolaevsk is holding steady. This year’s high school graduating class has three students, 300 percent more than Alex Kalugin’s class of 1982.
“Next year we’ve got eight kids graduating, so that’ll be a big hit to the school unless we get a bunch more kindergarteners,” said Sellers.
At the 2008 reunion, Chris Normandin, the school’s third- through fifth-grade teacher, was recognized for her 31 years at Nikolaevsk. That year’s yearbook was dedicated to Normandin for her commitment to the school.
Krista Parrett is one of the school’s newer teachers.
“This is my third year,” said Parrett, who came to KPBSD from Kodiak, began subbing at Nikolaevsk and decided it “would be a good match for me.”
Parrett teaches kindergarten through third-grade, coaches “Little Tykes” basketball and is the school’s PBIS, Positive Behavior Intervention and Support, coordinator, a program encouraging positive behavior.
Sellers said the impact of PBIS has spread from the school to community members through the recognizing of positive behavior with tickets that can be used as vouchers at the school’s snack bar. The tickets also will be entered into a drawing for a grand prize at the end of the school year.
The school enjoys a 100 percent graduation rate, with “a large portion of our kids going to college,” said Sellers. Taking advantage of what they’ve learned playing basketball with coaches Steve and Bea Klaich, some of those graduating students go on to play college ball, as has Nianiella Dorvall, a 2014 graduate who signed with Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon, Wash.
Asked what makes Nikolaevsk unique, Sellers pointed to the teamwork between teachers, staff and parents whom “all come together to try to decrease any cracks that kids might fall through. If a kid looks for a crack and finds one, we’re there pretty quick, plugging it up and pulling the kid out.”
“These are everybody’s kids,” said Sellers. “You go to a staff meeting and it’s not ‘your kid,’ ‘your classroom.’ I don’t hear anything about ‘your.’ It’s always ‘our kids’ no matter what grade we’re talking about,” he said.
McKibben Jackinsky is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.
Of 501 Alaska schools rated by the Alaska School Performance Index, Nikolaevsk received a five-star ASPI score of 95.27:
• 75 schools in the state received a four-star rating.
• Nikolaevsk’s score is the 55th highest in the state.
• Nikolaevsk is one of 10 five-star schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
• Nikolaevsk’s score is the 7th highest score of the 43 in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.