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My Turn: Is having two high schools best for our declining student body?

Posted: January 20, 2014 - 1:02am

With the fact that both high schools in Juneau have dropped below 700 students, when they were projected to have 1,100 each, it is time to take stock of the situation.

There have been, and will continue to be, numerous issues and challenges facing our students. However, the most pressing question must always be: “What is in the best interests of our students?” The district is tasked with addressing these issues head on, and they do so, with varying levels of success over the decades. This is how it will always be. Things will come up, and there will be attempts with how best to deal with it.

One of the most pressing issues facing Juneau schools right now at the high school level is decreasing enrollments. This is directly tied to the budget situation: the fewer students, the less money we get. I’m sure we all have many suggestions as to what the best course forward should be, but whatever those are, it is clear the status quo is untenable in light of such significant reductions in student population. JDHS is projected to lose another 50 students next year, and TMHS is projected to lose perhaps 10 to 15.

I won’t rehash the history of the contentious events and numerous votes that led to the second high school being passed by 51 percent, but I encourage those who don’t know to look into it. The bottom line is that it was done because the district felt it would be better to have two schools of 1,100 students each, rather than one school of 2,200. Due to varying reasons, we now face the extremely difficult task of running two comprehensive high schools, and all of the things that go along with that, programs for students across the spectrum, activities, facilities, etc. with half the students that were projected in each building.

The budgetary issues/woes are well known, and have received much attention recently. Historically, there have been numerous strategies for addressing the needs of the student population. Grades have been moved around from building to building, boundaries have been manipulated, facilities have been updated, closed, re-opened, etc. Calm, cool-headed leadership is needed to move forward. To automatically say that there is no way we could do something, close a school, or re-configure grades, is an unfortunate response.

I’ll leave for others to debate the pros and cons, the impacts of decisions, etc. However, the over riding focus must be: What is in the best interests of our students?

• Kurt S. Dzinich, Jr., has lived in Juneau for more than 35 years, with 20 years spent teaching at Juneau-Douglas High School

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