Falling dropout rate requires new school

Posted: Monday, March 29, 2004

In my view, there are good reasons to support construction of a valley high school, regardless of whether enrollments have flattened and no matter if it costs taxpayers more than expected. This past fall I looked at Juneau School District enrollment data for Native students beginning with the class of 2000 and ending with freshmen enrolled last year. Over those seven years, (classes of 2000-2006) 59 percent of Native students who entered JDHS in 9th grade were no longer enrolled three years later at the outset of what would have been their senior year. Using the District's more formal definition, 35 percent of Native students "drop out." But no matter how you parse the terms or run the numbers, it is clear that large numbers of Native students are not staying in school.

This past year the leadership of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, in cooperation with other Native organizations and individuals, began to look at ways to significantly improve Native student achievement and retention. One of the options now under study is a Native charter high school in Juneau, with a possibility of establishing similar schools in other communities over the next several years.

What does this have to do with the new Juneau high school? Considering all the concern about racism in Juneau, I think the Native charter high school should be housed in one of the wings of the new valley high school. That way the school is not isolated from the whole school community, but the Native student programs can be separated in ways that would ensure their success. And as this school succeeds, most of those 59 percent of Native students leaving the system will be staying. This means hundreds of students remaining in the district, perhaps enrolling in the transitional grade 11-14 program of the charter school, and completing a college degree at UAS.

Think of all the new taxpayers that Juneau would retain. I'd bet a bunch of those folks would even stay in town and have children of their own. The bottom line is that if we have any success at all in keeping Native students in school, as I believe we will, then we definitely need a new high school. Be practical and optimistic at the same time. Support construction of a new high school in the valley.

Ted Wright


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