My Turn: Two steps forward, three steps back

Posted: Sunday, February 06, 2011

Watching the Juneau School District budget process should make us all question the real goals for Juneau students. To paraphrase the District’s Mission Statement, it says they will provide students with skills to contribute to a changing world. It seems to me that our changing world will be best served by a scientifically literate populace, able to make science-based decisions, and respond thoughtfully at the voting booth. Apparently the current JSD administration is not as concerned with world-class skills for our 21st century future decision makers as they would like us to believe.

The move to eliminate the Elementary Science Coach position is less about sending one fabulous teacher back to the classroom and more about the lack of vision for science education. This position was erroneously referred to as an administrative position; it is not! During the science curriculum review and update process, the Juneau Economic Development Council partnered with JSD to implement an inquiry-based science program. The idea of a teacher-leader who would effectively provide professional development was critical to the process. While JEDC funding lasted two years, it was intended the district would continue and simultaneously work beyond that one position to cultivate a science-rich school district.

Sadly enough, that is not the case. JSD will not continue valuable work to support elementary science education, nor will it deliver on the promise to work beyond that one position. A dearth of professional development continues beyond elementary grades and even the work of the Elementary Science Coach is marginally supported. There is general lack of administrative support for science, sans a few principals who have remained ardent, and Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling’s advocacy for materials and texts. Simply completing a curriculum document and purchasing materials doesn’t equal successful teaching. A district must implement a solid professional development plan and require leadership from all administrators to implement the curriculum.

As I read about the proposed changes to the graduation requirements, I have to wonder how it will work to force-feed students into taking more science when many are barely engaged enough to make it through now. It could work if there was actual commitment to move science education to a playing field level with testing and reductionist reading efforts. Juneau students who make it through the kindergarten through eighth grade system and pursue elective science classes do so because they have one of two things; parents who advocate for them to be successful contributors to our changing world, or had the opportunity to develop their own sense of wonder and passion about how things work. Science can be the key to make education relevant, exciting, and enriching to ALL students. Every child comes to kindergarten with questions and ideas about how the world works. Though exploration, questioning strategies to support teaching and learning and real-world application, children become engaged in education. As students’ inquiries become more sophisticated, it will require more content knowledge, paving the way toward elective science classes.

Cutting the position that most supports professional development for elementary science does not look like advocating for students to continue on a path toward advanced science learning. Never providing an opportunity for district science educators to gather and participate in authentic Professional Learning Communities to support their learning does not support an improved science program. Encouraging teachers to focus on projects outside of the scope of their curriculum does not ensure connected concept progressions to make students scientifically literate. That is the current JSD path to nowhere. Lucky are the students whose teachers’ enjoy teaching science, understand how students learn science and keep the sparks ignited. While there are many of these in the Juneau School District, there are equally as many who would love to have the opportunity to fine-tune their crafts and ensure they are all teaching along with the same end in mind.

Juneau abounds with world-class scientists who work to better our community and world: not because they were force-fed more classes but because they are fervent about their discipline. Why does it feel like JSD is working hard to eliminate any and all enthusiasm for learning and teaching, especially in science?

• Frame is a retired Juneau School District instructional services coordinator.

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