Students opt for JDHS over new school

Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2008

Students picked the current high school over the much-vaunted new one by a ratio of 2:1, according to data released by the Juneau School District on Friday.

Superintendent Peggy Cowan said the district had received about 660 cards correctly filled out by incoming ninth-, 10th- and 11th-grade students. Of those, about 450 selected Juneau-Douglas High School downtown as their first choice, with about 210 picking the new Thunder Mountain High School in the Mendenhall Valley. The original deadline for the cards was last Wednesday.

Cowan said she was not worried about the difference in the students' school preferences and added that the district would continue to highlight the good qualities of Thunder Mountain.

"I think the numbers reflect the confidence and the loyalty of the students to Juneau-Douglas High School," Cowan said. "Change is hard."

JDHS will have about 940 students next year and TMHS will have about 500, Cowan said. The freshmen and sophomore classes will be split evenly between the two schools. Two-thirds to three-quarters of the junior class and all of the senior class will be at JDHS.

Students also had to choose which smaller learning group, or academy, they wanted to join, but Cowan said that information was not immediately available. TMHS will offer a humanities-based academy and a math- and science-based academy.

Most JDHS students will have to choose between a general studies program that is not an academy and a technical-training-based academy.

To determine the demand for each school, Cowan said the district still needs to collect information from about 670 students who either filled their cards out incorrectly or not at all.

She said it was likely that the district would use a lottery system to determine which school many of the students attend next year. In the past, district officials have said the lottery would be random, except a preference would be given to students who lived within 1.5 miles walking distance from either of the two schools or to those living in the district's farthest outlying areas.

Cowan said the district had scheduled a public information session to further explain the difference between the two schools and its learning academies Tuesday night. District representatives also would call the homes of students who have not submitted a card, Cowan said.

"I think the process is working," Cowan said.

The final deadline is Feb. 22. Cowan said those who did not make a preference known would be added to the lottery.

Thunder Mountain is the new $60 million high school set to open for the fall semester that district officials have said would help solve some of the district's long-standing problems, like a high dropout rate and a racial achievement imbalance.

But the school already has plenty of detractors. Some parents voiced concerns before the school was built that the community could only support one high school and its activities.

Others have said that new buildings were not needed because of the district's declining enrollment, which has dropped to about the same enrollment level as in 1990 and is expected to continue dropping for the next few years.

But district officials have said that smaller teacher-to-student ratios have translated to a space crunch, and the choices available to students with the new high school and the academy program will help keep more kids interested in school.

• Contact reporter Alan Sudermanat 523-2268 or e-mail

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