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Empire Editorial: It's time to draw the line

Posted: April 9, 2014 - 11:13pm

Since Thunder Mountain High School opened its doors in 2008, students have been allowed to choose which high school they will attend.

Many have opted for both.

They bounce back and forth, switching schools multiple times during their four-year high school careers.

The Juneau school board’s Next Generation High School plan, implemented in 2008, allowed students to transfer once per year. It was a compromise intended to encourage reluctant students to try the new high school. At the time, many noted Juneau’s high schools would eventually need to draw a line on the map and define boundaries just like the district’s middle and elementary schools do.

Now is the time.

Running buses from all parts of town to both schools comes with an extra $41,000 price tag. That’s enough to cover an employee’s salary. With the district’s budget being squeezed tighter and tighter, unnecessary expenditures like this need to go away.

Thunder Mountain was built for 838 students, with the ability to expand to accommodate 1,000. The school hasn’t come close to reaching that capacity. Next year, it’s projected to have 685 students — about 63 more than Juneau-Douglas High School.

Enrollment has come a long way since TMHS opened its doors to just 400 students, but it’s never reached the 725-student goal established in a three-year transition plan in 2007.

To be fair, part of the reason is there are fewer students in Juneau schools. Enrollment in all grades district-wide has dropped by 300 students since 2008.

With boundaries, planning for upcoming school years will be simpler. Look at how many eighth-graders are moving out of the middle schools, and that’s likely how many incoming freshmen you’ll see at the high schools. Setting firm boundaries saves planning time, and time is money, as we’ve heard so often.

Beyond the dollars and cents, it’s unproductive and inefficient for high school students to spend an hour riding the bus one way across town. That’s 10 hours per week for some students, enough to complete the day’s homework assignments, participate in an extracurricular school activity or work a part-time job. Instead, that time is wasted on a needless commute past one high school in order to attend one farther away.

There’s also the intangibles: If students attend the same high school all four years, they have a greater sense of school pride, stronger relationships with teachers and staff and increased stability in their learning environment. Boundary exemptions could still exist, but only in the exceptional circumstances that exist for middle and elementary schools.

If we’re drawing a line on expenses, let’s start by drawing a line on the map.

• Empire editorials are written by the Juneau Empire’s editorial board. Members include Publisher Rustan Burton,; Director of Audience Abby Lowell,; Managing Editor Charles L. Westmoreland,; and Asst. Editor James Brooks,

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Clay Good
Clay Good 04/10/14 - 12:02 pm
It's All About Choices

Has Juneau given up on the notion that different students have different interests, abilities and learning styles and benefit from having real choices?

We were told and we were sold by the captains of the Next Generation Planning Committee that our two big high schools would be fundamentally different, thus creating real choices for Juneau's educational family.

Alas, because JSD has failed to deliver the "Next Generation" rationale that was used to justify building a larger than necessary new building, they created two high schools that are now designed to compete with each other instead of compliment each other.

So after spending $54,000,000 to renovate JDHS and $70,000,000 to build TMHS, Juneau can't afford to spend $41,000 to transport students to the school of their choice?

Perhaps spending $25,000 to find a new superintendent will help the board find their way out of the mess they've created.

Clay Good
Clay Good 04/10/14 - 06:19 am

Double post.

Stephanie Allison
Stephanie Allison 04/10/14 - 09:44 am
I disagree

The district administration uses an average of $91K for teachers salaries and benefits; $41K doesn't even cover half of that. In addition, pupil transportation is seperate funding from the state so the $41K doesn't come from the operating fund.

I agree with Mr. Good, the special tracks originally designed by Next Generation were not appealing to parents or students leading students to choose a more traditional approach to classes in both schools. That doesn't mean there aren't differences though, largely in extra curricular activities.
JD has the only hockey team
TM has the only culinary arts
JD has the only academic decathalon team
TM has the only robotics team.

Choice in which high school to attend is still important and students make their choice based on a variety of elements. I believe that being able to choose their high school AND being able to change schools is a contriuting factor to the districts increase in graduation rate to 79%. I have a student at TM; I haven't seen a lot of students changing schools more than once. What is the source of the "bounce back and forth" statement in the editorial?

Middle school students make their choice of schools in late January, early February. This hasn't disrupted the budget process and I believe the trade off for student choice is more beneficial than any inconvience caused by the process.

The competition between the two schools is largely financial; more students means more staff. With decreasing enrollment district-wide the effect is cutting into HS core classes, especially at JD.

Attend any football or basketball game and you'll see that neither of these schools lack school spirit. Even more importantly, they both have strong COMMUNITY spirit. I know pep bands musicians have played for either school. The recent collaboration of all three high schools for Monty Python's Holy Grail was a huge success. JDs support of TM at the region V basketball tournement highlights that the kids recognize they are part of one community, now the adults need to get on board.

Stephanie Allison
2014 JSD Budget Committee

Judy Hodel
Judy Hodel 04/10/14 - 02:10 pm
Ask the Athletic Director

Kids switching high schools because of sports is a huge problem. Just ask the athletic director. For example, a kid goes to a couple of practices for football that starts in July and doesn't like the coaches, players, or whatever. Then uses academics as a reason to transfer to the other high school.

The Next Generation Plan could be used instead of Charmin. What a flawed document.Those that wrote and pushed it forward disregarded most of the public input. A huge number of folks wanted a 7-9 and 10-12 format for the schools. In 2010 you could take 6 languages under 1 roof at JDHS. Now it is what 2?

The current school board disregards the advice of its' advisory boards. See budget and middle school travel. They let one of the best( according to staff, students, and coaches) JDHS principals ever to be fired by the super. They rubber stamp anything the super wants.Then spent money they don't have to hire a consultant to find super candidtates. See the hospital board for how well that worked. The new super will have a nice severence check I bet.

We need boundaries for the high school. If you go to Dryden you go to JDHS and if DZ to JDHS. Or adjust for out-the-road families.

Recall the entire board and vote out O'Brien and Saddler in 2014.

Bill Burk
Bill Burk 04/10/14 - 12:03 pm
Two High Schools

THMS was,is, and will be total of money for JSD The city never did , doesn't now, or in the future need 2 HS. The district NEEDS to close one down!

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