Galena Interior Learning Academy: A 20-Year History of CTE Instruction Leadership


By Jim Merriner, Assistant Superintendent, Galena City School District

The Galena City School District (GCSD), headquartered in Galena, Alaska, has operated the Galena Interior Learning Academy (GILA) since 1997. GILA is the second-largest and second-longest operating boarding school open to any Alaskan high school student.


GILA uses buildings on the former Galena Air Force Base, the northernmost Air Force intercept site during the Cold War. At the end of U.S.-Soviet tensions when the Galena Air Force Base was placed in “warm status” to be maintained by civilian contractors, GCSD and the City of Galena immediately initiated dialogue with the U.S. Air Force to repurpose underutilized buildings for the development of a district-operated, statewide, boarding school program with a strong career and technical education (CTE) focus.

Small engines

Enrollment the first year was 27, nearly tripling to 77 the second year, and eventually passing the 100 mark in fall 2006. On October 1, 2008, the U.S. Air Force officially closed the remaining Galena Air Force Base buildings and gifted them all to the City of Galena. GCSD, in close partnership with the City of Galena, worked diligently to increase the quantity and quality of CTE programs available, resulting in higher student enrollment. Approximately 215 students (over 90% Alaska Native) have called GILA home each of the last three years, representing over 75 Alaskan communities (mostly small rural villages) from every region of the state.

Aluminum welding

GILA provides both traditional academics and seven CTE pathways. GILA’s CTE pathways focus on areas that strive to provide graduates both career opportunities in rural and urban areas and seamless transitions into post-secondary opportunities within Alaska. Students can earn industry certifications in our cosmetology program and dual credit with the University of Alaska Fairbanks in our computer technology, aviation technology, automotive technology, health sciences, construction trades, and natural resource management CTE pathways. Currently, GILA offers 12 dual credit courses with the University of Alaska Fairbanks within our seven CTE pathways.


Furthermore, GILA provides unique learning opportunities during after-school hours that enhance our students’ interpersonal and educational experiences while at GILA. The GILA Residence Life Department develops educational programs focused on supporting each student’s social, emotional, and intellectual growth. Students have the opportunity to engage in Native dancing, Native Youth Olympics, music and drama productions, arts and crafts, snowmachine repair, and volunteer opportunities with community elders – to name a few. All of the residence life programming is centered on providing “out of classroom” experiences focused on developing each student’s confidence, unique talents, and interests.

GILA welding

GILA is proud to be a statewide resource for students looking to expand their educational horizons and to challenge themselves academically, socially, and emotionally. GILA’s committed classroom and residence life staff supports each student’s academic and personal growth by providing excellent course offerings and after-school experiences. Each student can tailor the GILA experience to meet his/her individual needs and interests. GILA’s goal is to help grow our students into well-grounded, well-educated graduates able to maneuver effectively in our dynamic world.

Team building

Watch the 30 second Gavel Alaska television commercial about the Galena Interior Learning Academy (GILA).


The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Association of Alaska School Boards. AASB welcomes diverse perspectives and civil discourse. To submit a Guest Column for consideration, email your 400-1000 word submission HERE.