Education plan offers a break with tradition

Approach includes interdisciplinary studies, learning communities

Posted: Thursday, May 17, 2007

Completing a six-month project, an advisory committee has offered the Juneau School Board a new high school education plan that would turn the traditional education model on its head.

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"It's pretty revolutionary," school board member Mark Choate said.

The proposal, presented in its first draft Tuesday night, calls for more student choice, a new approach for advisors, interdisciplinary studies, small "learning communities," and greater student involvement in extracurricular activities.

In short, the plan gets away from the last-generation system that sent students from one class to another all day long, leaving many of them disconnected if not disoriented.

Many attribute the old-style education model with Juneau's high dropout rate.

The committee said that the new advisory program would reduce failing grades, raise test scores and improve student attitudes.

The school board expects to vote on the plan during a June board meeting.

If accepted, it would coincide with the opening of Thunder Mountain High School in August 2008.

The 35-member committee presenting the plan was made up of local business people, students, parents, teachers, and various educational professionals.

The committee worked from public input after 10 open forums, neighborhood meetings and open houses.

"The public made it clear there were four priorities: choice, personalization, unity and equity," said Peggy Cowan, Juneau's School District superintendent.

"This proposal reflects that," she said.

School board members asked questions and voiced concerns during the first reading of the plan.

Mary Becker asked for a working session to better understand the proposal. Calling it a "top-down approach," Becker voiced concern about teachers' academic freedom.

"If the teachers are on board, then I'm on board," Becker said.

Margo Waring asked for more details on implementation of the complex plan.

Choate said success for the new program would rely on the district's ability to get the general public to understand the value of a nontraditional education system.

Waring asked for more nonsport extracurricular activities and a requirement that students take at least one extracurricular activity as a requirement for graduation.

"We believe that we can connect more kids to school through these opportunities," Cowan said.

"My sense is that if the board's questions are answered, it will pass," Choate said.

For more information see:

• Greg Skinner can be reached at

Editor's note: First in a series of stories on the future of education in Juneau

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