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Schools to consolidate language programs

Russian to be taught only at TMHS and Japanese only at JDHS

Posted: Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Choosing to take Russian or Japanese language classes will become tantamount to choosing which high school to attend.

An administrative decision will consolidate where the languages are offered instead of continuing to offer both languages at both Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain high schools.

The decision was made during an administrative meeting Monday afternoon among the two schools' principals, as well as Superintendent Peggy Cowan and Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling, district spokeswoman Kristin Bartlett said.

The district has a single Russian language teacher and a single Japanese language teacher. During the district's first year managing two traditional high schools, the teachers have been splitting their time between both schools.

However, the bell schedules during the 2009-2010 school year at the high schools will no longer be in lockstep, limiting the teachers' ability to split their time between the schools. To maintain both languages at both schools would logistically force the schools' entire academic schedules to be built around the two teachers' availability, Bartlett said.

Consolidating their duties, Russian at TMHS and Japanese at JDHS, eliminates that problem and also lets the teachers regain some instructional time lost driving back and forth.

The changes won't affect the high schools' offerings of Spanish, French and Tlingit, but does highlight another consequence of opening Thunder Mountain High School with a stagnant student population.

Most college admissions require at least two years of a foreign language. To accommodate the students with only one year of Russian or Japanese under their belt - more than 100 are enrolled in Russian 1 or Japanese 1 this year alone - the district will continue to offer second-year Russian and Japanese at both high schools next year, either before or after normal class times referred to as zero period and seventh period.

Monday night, the JDHS Site Council offered a counterpoint to the decision, recommending that "for the 2009-2010 school year, Juneau Douglas High School at a minimum offers Russian II in school during regular school periods."

The plug would be completely pulled on Russian at JDHS and Japanese at TMHS by the 2010-2011 school year.

The decision followed an in-house analysis of the situation and possible options discussed during the administrative meeting Monday, Bartlett said. The analysis revealed that even with the consolidation, the district was ahead of the curve in its language offerings.

"As part of the analysis of all the options, there was a pretty thorough investigation of what languages are offered throughout the state at secondary schools. We're the only district offering five different languages," Bartlett said. Most offer two or three with some larger districts offering four, she said.

The languages are especially valuable in Alaska because Japan is a prominent trade partner, particularly in the seafood industry, and because the state owes part of its cultural legacy to Russia, whose explorers were Alaska's first non-native settlers.

Laura Fleming, spokeswoman for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said Japan is the industry's most important market and that Russia is on the rise.

"The more versatile we are in communication skills, the more we can participate in opportunities in terms of the Pacific Rim," Fleming said.



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