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City looks to reshape education

Juneau weighs five proposals for new high school programs

Posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Parents, educators and students, trying to draw a comprehensive picture of Juneau with two major high schools, face a lot more work at the drawing board.

A 35-person advisory committee is considering public comments on five education proposals, with a goal of bringing a single plan for reform of high school education to the Juneau School Board in May.

Many questions remain before the city's second high school, Thunder Mountain High, opens in 2008.

The community needs to figure out how to provide all students with a quality education and close the "achievement gap," said Linda Fiorella, facilitator for a committee called The Next Generation: Our Kids, Our Community.

Sound off on the important issues at

"There's definitely an achievement gap in Juneau," she said. "We have some kids that are doing remarkably well ... but that's not necessarily the case with all the students."

In the 2005-06 school year, 65.8 percent of Juneau's high school students graduated with their class on time after four years.

"We're very concerned about the dropout rate, and we're very concerned that we have not done very well in the past with certain students," said Destiny Sargeant, a parent representative on the committee and site council member at two schools.

"We're attempting to look at learning options, learning choices, and flexibility so all students can have equal access to services," Sargeant said.

Last week, three open houses were held to take comments on the five proposals. Some of the plans overlap.

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They're officially titled:

• Personalized School: You make the Choice.

• Two Reformed Comprehensive High Schools: Greater Opportunities for All to Participate.

• One School, Two Campuses: 9/10 and 11/12: Splitting the Grades to Honor Developmental Stages.

• Juneau's Academic and Career Academies.

• Three Facilities - Multiple Choices.

"The final proposal could be a combination of the proposals that were out there," said Fiorella.

"It's our first and foremost purpose to create that learning environment that leads to success for all students," she said.

Here is a look at the main points of each proposal.

Personalized School

This plan envisions five "personalized" schools limited to 400 students each, with focus on small learning communities. Students would choose a school tailored to help them succeed in further education.

"That's probably the most common high school reform in the United States," Fiorella said.

If this proposal moves forward, the community would still need to decide on the themes of the five schools, she said.

They could include focusing on early college preparation or more hands-on education, Fiorella said.

Two schools would be at Juneau-Douglas High School, two at TMHS, and one likely at Yaakoosge Daakahidi alternative high school.

Two Reformed Comprehensive High Schools

The second plan would separate JDHS and TMHS with two faculties, staff and administrations for grades 9-12. The idea would be to incorporate small learning communities within larger school settings to bolster achievement, Fiorella said.

"This one really provides more opportunities for kids to participate in more sports and more activities," she said.

This proposal has been met with praise and speculation. Some people don't want to see the successful sports programs at JDHS compromised by a split.

"The key to this one, and it's not everybody, but there is a strong element in this community that thinks there are enough kids in the community for two sports teams and activities," Fiorella said.

With education-funding an everlasting issue in Juneau, it could be difficult to gain support for this proposal, Fiorella said.

One School, Two Campuses

The third proposal suggests having lowerclassmen attend school at one campus and upperclassmen attend the other. By putting ninth- and 10th-graders at one campus and 11th- and 12th-graders at another, the district could provide more structure for the younger students and more specialized direction for the older ones, Fiorella said.

"You could really focus on the appropriate development stages of the kids," she said. "You don't have geographic boundaries, you have age boundaries with that one."

Although this proposal would allow the sports teams to stay intact, some believe it could fracture the student experience.

"While that one's pretty popular with the community, while we talk with high school kids, that one has not been particularly popular," Fiorella said.

Juneau's Academic and Career Academies

The fourth proposal suggests creating academic and career academies to nurture skills needed by students headed for college as well as those looking to go to work right after graduation.

"It's not the old voc-tech model of kids who don't do well in school take a hands-on class and don't do anything else," Fiorella said. "In this one, you're providing them all with a post-education plan."

The proposal focuses on certain skills for certain professions, she said. Examples of the academies are a business and technology model, or one focused on architecture and construction.

Three Facilities

The fifth proposal suggests adding TMHS as a third option alongside JDHS and the alternative high school, melding a variety of options from the other proposals for more educational choices.

"It really allows students and families to choose if they want a more traditional program at JDHS or a more personalized high school at Thunder Mountain," Fiorella said.

More work to be done

The advisory committee goes before the school board with its final recommendation on May 15.

Clay Good, a JDHS teacher representative on the committee, said he hopes the committee and the School Board will consider the needs and desires of the educators, some of whom have spent a great deal of time already on education reform ideas.

"In the end, teachers need to be asked - their perspective needs to be considered more deeply," he said. "I think we need to see a show of hands among teachers for what's appropriate for our teachers and our faculty."

Although the final plan is far from decided, there must be education reform in Juneau, Sargeant said.

"High school is not the same now as it was," she said.

• Eric Morrison can be reached at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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