Recommendations for school reform may take a while

District seeks 4-year federal grant

Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Small learning communities at Juneau-Douglas High School may be years away from becoming a reality.

The group suggesting ways to form small learning communities at Juneau-Douglas High School isn't ready to make recommendations.

The 40-plus group of educators, students and community members - called the design team - met all day Monday at the high school library.

The next steps will be to bring more people into the discussions, survey staff and students, update the faculty, and talk to the School Board and employee unions.

The school district intends to apply for a four-year federal grant, and perhaps foundation grants, to implement changes at JDHS.

Planning may take another year, Assistant Superintendent Bernie Sorenson said.

To make any changes, promoters of small learning communities need support from the Juneau School Board, then from the faculty and staff, and then from the community, JDHS science teacher Erik Lundquist

"There's a little chronology that needs to happen," he said.

For example, the small learning communities may use professionals in Juneau to help students with research, provide internships or help teach classes, Lundquist said.

"We need a buy-in that says the community is willing to do that, to take the time. They have jobs too," he said.

Examples of small learning communities include breaking students and faculty members into houses, or separating freshmen into their own academy, or creating schools within schools based on academic subjects. Some schools keep teams of students with the same teachers for two years in a row.

Behind any small learning community is the idea that students will do better in school if they feel a sense of belonging and if teachers know them well.

Small learning communities often allow for experimenting with changes in the school day and week, scheduling, and how course credits can be earned.

Consultant Carol Miller Lieber of Chicago spoke of the importance of "voice and choice" for students in a revamped high school, and a greater opportunity for students to pursue courses within their interests.

The dilemma with a long-term implementation grant, Lieber said, is that if changes are put in place over a series of years, with constant readjustments to the earlier changes, "everybody goes completely nuts, because as school people we're not very good at not only seeing through change but having trust in the process that we're not going to die."

It's better to implement the whole plan in one year, let people complain, and then refine the plan, Lieber said.

"When it goes year by year by year, it means negotiating every tiny piece, so the dog fights get ugly." she said.

• Eric Fry can be reached at

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