Educators, school board members, teachers, parents and students are taking a look beyond the next new school building and trying to figure out what students will actually be learning there in years to come.
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The advisory committee, part of a project called "Next Generation: Our Kids, Our Community," was formed to find answers to a burgeoning list of educational problems.
The project was prompted by a decision to build a new high school in the Mendenhall Valley, as well as low graduation rates and performance disparities between ethnic, income and gender groups.
It will affect not only the new Thunder Mountain High School, which is set to open next academic year, but also Juneau-Douglas High School and the alternative Yaakoosgé Daakahdi High School.
Charla Wright, assistant superintendent of the Juneau School District, said the committee was an opportunity for citizens to get involved in the future of education.
"Opening another high school in Juneau is a significant event in our community," she said. "We're interested in having a shared voice."
In a process that will last until May, the advisory board will research "best practices" in education and hold 14 public forums. After that, it will draw up recommendations for the Juneau School District Board.
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On Wednesday evening, about 35 people met to discuss problems and process at the Tlingit and Haida Vocational Training and Resource Center.
They divided into four groups and were asked to develop statements that describe secondary education in Juneau.
Members mentioned high ACT and SAT scores, but the leading topic was the low graduation rate and the performance disparity between student groups.
While many students perform well, the system isn't working for those who are poor and of Native ancestry, said Teri Tibbett, a parent and site board member for JDHS. Tibbett is also a freelance writer for the Empire.
The process is being helped along by professional facilitator Linda Fiorella of Colorado Critical Friends, an educational consulting group that has worked with districts in Ohio, California and Colorado.
Fiorella said there had been significant improvement in Juneau's secondary schools. She cited an increase in graduation rates among Natives.
She also conceded there were many problems and said too many students were still not finishing school.
"The graduation rate is low," she said. "Sixty-five percent is not considered a high graduation rate."
A handful of high school students were present.
"I don't think it's going to change anything," said Darby Brown, a 16-year-old freshman at Juneau-Douglas High. "Students are going to do what they want."
Laury Scandling, principal of Yaakoosgé Daakahdi High School, was much more optimistic.
"Last night was very productive," said Scandling, who was especially pleased with the public participation. "This is not some closed-door ivory-tower group getting together behind closed doors."
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