Chugiak High prepares to receive 600 new Gruening middle schoolers

Like all of the schools in the district, Chugiak took some damage during last week’s magnitude 7.0 earthquake. Chugiak assistant principal Allison Susel says that there are still a few areas in the school that need repairs.

“We do have some zones that are red, restricted, which means we can’t enter,” Susel said. “Those are some locker rooms, some bathrooms and our auxiliary gym.”

However, the damage to the school wasn’t so severe that classes couldn’t resume on time with the rest of the district. Gruening Middle School was not so lucky. On Wednesday, ASD Superintendent Deena Bishop announced that Gruening Middle School would be closed for the rest of the year due to damage taken from the quake.

It was then announced that Gruening’s 600 students would be relocated to Chugiak.

Anchorage School District spokeswoman Catherine Esary says moving that many students from one school to another in the middle of the school year is a rare occurrence in the Anchorage School District, possibly unprecedented. Chugiak already has a student population of around 1,000 students.

“We do on occasion have water breaks, and maybe school would be out for a day, or for snow, particular schools may be offline for a short period of time,” Esary said. “Not in recent history have we taken whole schools offline, and certainly not for earthquake damage. This is a, we hope, once-in-a-decade kind of experience.”

Chugiak’s Susel says that both schools will be working through the weekend to make sure the new students are accommodated. Gruening principal Bobby Jefts says that one of the first orders of business for those students will be reuniting with personal items they had to leave behind in their lockers and classrooms when they evacuated.

“All this stuff is going to be boxed up, bagged up, shipped out to Chugiak, and we’ll figure out some way to redistribute it back to our students Tuesday, if not earlier,” Jefts said.

Susel says that Chugiak is still working through making sue that every Gruening student will have a locker at the high school. She said, worst-case, some middle schoolers would have to share lockers.

“The lockers at Chugiak are a lot bigger than at the middle school so it might be considered an upgrade,” Susel said.

Susel says most incoming teachers will have their own room to teach in. In addition to vacant classroom at the high school, she says several non-teaching areas, like computer labs, have been converted into classrooms. Some middle and high school classes may be grouped together, particularly electives.

“So, we’ll be sharing art spaces, their band class has their own space, orchestra — being part-time for both schools — we’re working on them sharing spaces and overlapping sometimes,” Susel said. “Which actually for us, just feels like we’ll be able to build a stronger program, collaborate in a way that helps the middle school students even be prepared for high school.”

Another issue to address is student transportation. Susel says that Gruening buses will be rerouted to a back entrance of the school where the middle school administration will be housed. Additionally, students who regularly walk to school will be instructed to walk to Gruening’s parking lot, where buses will take them to Chugiak.

Overall, Esary says if the transition is successful, it may serve as a model for future disaster response from the district.

“We would hope that we would be able to share this with other people and say this is our experience and this worked for us and didn’t,” Esary said. “Maybe you can from it what would work in your situation.

Chugiak High, along with the rest of the school district, will resume classes on Monday. The only exception is Gruening students, who will start at their new location the next day.

Wesley Early covers Anchorage life and city politics for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at and follow him on X at @wesley_early. Read more about Wesley here.

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