My Turn: A vote against school is for crowding

Posted: Thursday, March 04, 2004

As someone who has worked daily in the Marie Drake building for more than a decade, I want the public to understand the practical realities of voting to reconsider a second high school. Here's what your vote endorses:

• Killing, or at a minimum, delaying for at least a year, this desperately needed facility after six years of community planning and three public votes. Opening would be pushed back until 2007, at the earliest.

• Cramming more than 2,000 teenagers into JDHS and Marie Drake - 30 percent more students than we have now -- before a Valley high school could be considered again. Please, please, please, visit Marie Drake and walk the halls of the main high school (which now has one less classroom than it did before the renovation) to get a sense of how inhumane this would be.

• Losing the funds already dedicated to this project and risking the possibility of no substantial reimbursement from a future Alaska Legislature. The bonds to pay for construction already have been sold and must be used. The window of opportunity for up to 60 percent payback from the state shuts next year.

• Ditching the careful planning of the last five years during which time dozens of educators, community members, and elected leaders contributed to the formation of this plan, on which $4 million has already been spent.

• Hijacking the will of the voters. Juneau has voted three times on the second high school. A deliberate and appropriate process has been adhered to; it should not be undermined with this broadside attack.

• Continuing tensions at our high school. You cannot jam nearly 1,600 developing adolescents and more than 100 adults into three old buildings stretched over three blocks and not expect there to be a paucity of communication, community, and civility.

• Promoting a shamefully high dropout rate. It's incontrovertible: more kids do better in smaller educational environments. The irony is, of course, that by forcing the high school to remain large, fractured, and impersonal, the dropout rate will keep a lid on the total student population, thus bolstering the illogic of those who want to stop a second high school.

• Ignoring the facts: the plans already have been downsized (to accommodate 1,100, instead of 1,500) in response to revised population projections. The district will qualify for more money with two high schools, rather than one. If the second high school opened this minute and the current number of high-schoolers was split in half, it would be at about three-quarters capacity instantly.

• Diminishing involvement for kids. Only so many kids can be elected to student council or selected for a team or make the auditions for the spring musical or perform in the talent show or edit the newspaper or lay out the yearbook or even fit into our school library or eat lunch in the commons at one time. What if those opportunities were doubled?

Ask yourself: What's best for our kids, all of them - and, perhaps more important - for their kids?

• Laury Scandling has worked in the Marie Drake building since 1991, as a student teacher, substitute teacher, middle school teacher, high school teacher, and high school administrator. She is a JDHS social studies/English teacher. Her two children graduated from JDHS last year.

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