My Turn: Choose quality education over architecture

Posted: Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Sometimes it is difficult to know what is right. Before the special election in May, voters will read plenty of emotional, pleading letters in hope of finding the information required for making a serious decision. From a reasoned perspective, the issues are complex and shouldn't be oversimplified. Voters need good information.

Some claim that a small group of malcontents hijacked the election process.

However, well over the required 2,408 Juneau voters believe in the initiative process and signed the petition.

So, what is right?

Voters were told in 1999 Juneau's high school population would exceed 2,100 students right now. Some make dire claims of stressful overcrowding at JDHS and the imminent need to move portable classrooms on site.

Right now there are at least four empty classrooms in JDHS. Right now there are at least four empty classrooms next door in Marie Drake. Right now a number of computer labs often sit empty and other classrooms have only a handful of students, part of the time. And there are classrooms at the UAS Tech Center across the street not used during the day.

Right now the district's attendance report counts less than 1,000 students in the building during most periods of the day.

Many students are scheduled "Off-Campus" because there are too few available elective classes. Or they are next door at Marie Drake or at Ya Koos alternative school, or at the UAS Tech Center, or home-schooled, or cyber-schooled, or in criminal detention programs, or in chemical treatment programs. Diverse students have diverse needs.

So, what is right?

Voter information in 1999 claimed the district needs $1.6 million to operate the big new school.

Now the board says that an extra $822,000 will do the job for a school with a core designed for 1,500 students.

So, what is right?

Voters were told that one of the best reasons to build a big new school is to increase student involvement in sports and activities.

But, now the district is actively seeking waivers to limit the number of sports offered for both schools.

JDHS paid $125,000 in contracts to a coach and adviser contracts this year.

The district budgeted $50,800 for coaches and advisers for the new high school.

So, what is right?

Some claim that a big new building is a solution for our dropouts.

I wish it were that simple. Students drop out for many complex reasons: family conditions, cultural isolation, abuse, poverty, chemical dependency, pregnancy, physical disabilities, learning disabilities, the list is sadly long.

Try to imagine the perspective of a student on the edge, seeking one good reason to come to school. The architectural grandeur of a big new building won't likely be on the top of their list. However, that great class that they love because it is relevant to their life has a good chance of tempting a student to attend. Personally, I came to school for music and stayed for science.

So, what is right?

Some say that a new school will ease tensions, racial and otherwise, among student groups.

Our community is too often divided politically, socially, culturally and racially. Imagine what it will be like with two schools designed specifically to compete, valley vs. town, athletically, academically and financially. Will a second big high school help unite our diverse students?

So, what is right?

In a recent Empire My Turn, a former school board president wrote that Clay Good has, "been a long-time supporter of a single, mega-high school."

Sept. 22, 1999, the Juneau Empire said, "He'd prefer smaller, specialized high schools. 'I think it would meet more students' needs and I think it would be less expensive,' Good said."

I support diversity of choices for students. Some students thrive in big schools with all they have to offer. Some students thrive in small schools with specialized programs. I believe Juneau's diverse students are served poorly by attempting to replicate what we already have.

So, what is right?

Some fear that we cannot come up with a better plan by the Dec. 31 deadline for state reimbursement.

I believe we can and we must. I believe Juneau's diverse students deserve better.

So, what is right?

Between now and May, ask hard questions. Demand good answers. Then vote for what you think is right. Personally, I'll be voting Yes, for better, not bigger schools.

For source documents, research and other information, please visit www.juneaustudentsfirst.com.

• Clay Good Is a JDHS science teacher.



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