Teachers unhappy with UAS autoshop decision

Posted: Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Automotive technology high school teacher Stephen Squires said he got a certificate of appreciation last week from the University of Alaska Southeast - on the same day he found out it had effectively ended his autoshop program.

Squires said he didn't find it funny.

"I can only take so much," Squires said, adding that he gave the certificate, which was for working with UAS to offer university-level courses to high school students, back to the school.

Squires said he and other teachers are working on a petition calling on the school district to end a student-teaching agreement with UAS at the high school and middle school level, saying it would send a message that the university needed to hold up its end on what should be a mutually beneficial relationship.

An earlier idea to promote cutting all ties with the university was scrapped because it would harm students trying to get dual credit in other programs, he said.

UAS officials have said they will no longer allow the high school to teach autoshop at the university's Technical Education Center, which sits across Egan Drive from Juneau-Douglas High School, because it needs the space at the facility to expand its mining program.

High school students have been using the facility for more than two decades, and about 100 high school students used the building for classes this year, according to Squires, who said there is plenty of space in the building to continue housing his classes.

The university said it wants to work with the high school to allow some students to take university classes at the facility that would lead to professional certification.

"We're changing it in order to improve it," said Karen Schmitt, dean of UAS' Schools for Management and Career Education.

The decision to disallow the high school to use its facility for autoshop classes had been made "over a long period of time by thoughtful people," UAS Provost Roberta Stell said.

Schmitt added that the changes were limited in scope and would not affect other high school programs.

But Squires and other teachers said they don't see it that way. The university is forcing its curriculum on the high school, they said.

Tracy River, a P.E. teacher at JDHS and former head of the teachers' union, said UAS had "pulled the rug" from Squires and he didn't "ever want to see another teacher go through this."

Rivera and Squires stressed the idea for a petition had broad support from teachers, but was not the official stance of the teachers' union or the school district.

Carol Shurson, a current leader of the union, said Friday that her organization hadn't taken an official position regarding what to do about the autoshop program, but she said she imagined her members were "not pleased" with the university's decision.

District Superintendent Peggy Cowan said last week the district was actively looking for alternative places to house the autoshop program. The small engine classes currently taught by Squires at the UAS facility would still be available next year because they could be taught on district grounds, she said.

Cowan added that the district was looking to expand as many programs with UAS as possible.

Last week, the district looked at using the old Capital Chevy garage in the Lemon Creek area as an alternate spot to house the autoshop program. But the district's facilities coordinator, Deb Morse, said the building likely could not be ready for next school year and needed a lot of work and money to make it a safe place to teach high school students.

In an e-mail to School Board members, Cowan said the district is looking for other "hands-on vocational course offerings" if a new home for the autoshop program isn't found.

Some teachers said the district's administrators - including JDHS principal Bernie Sorenson, who was unavailable to comment for this story - had been too focused on opening the district's new high school and dropped the ball in their negotiations with the university.

"Bernie let it slide, and let it slide," said Andy Bullick, the metals teacher at JDHS.

School Board member Mark Choate, who suggested the district take a look at Capital Chevy, said there was no question that the district had done a poor job of handling the issue but the university was being "very unreasonable."

"In a town as small as ours, to create that kind of ill will is fairly inexcusable," Choate said.

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or alan.suderman@juneauempire.com.

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