My turn: Choice in schools would help Juneau

Posted: Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Gregg Erickson continues to deliver reasoned and researched analysis in his Juneau Empire columns.

From my perspective as a former teacher and student in Juneau's schools, his recent essay regarding leadership of the Juneau School District and the poor decisions that have crippled public confidence in our schools rings mostly true.

The good news is as the political dust surrounding Thunder Mountain High School settles, and it opens its doors to students in September, we just may have the best of both worlds. For now.

With Juneau-Douglas High School, we have a beautiful, large traditional high school with the diverse programs and courses that inhabit bigger schools; at TMHS, we have a beautiful new high school with a small student population and the potential for innovation, flexibility and creativity that so many students who are not successful in large schools require to be successful and graduate.

Families now have a sweet apple and a tangy orange from which to choose.

All this in spite of recent efforts of school district officials efforts to ram a one-size-fits-all approach down the throats of Juneau's families, teachers and students.

District administrators, under the guise of the so-called Next Generation Planning Committee, got the Juneau School Board's unanimous rubber-stamp of approval to implement experimental academies in both schools while devising to split the student/teacher population down the middle.

They proposed two schools of approximately 800: Too small for the kinds of academic and sports programs offered by our large high school; and too big for the needs of students who thrive in small, more personalized schools with its supports, flexibility and innovative methodologies.

Two schools of 800. That's like having two overripe bananas from which to choose. Nice deal if you like overripe bananas.

Juneau's students who don't succeed or graduate will tell you one size does not fit all.

For now, there are about 1,150 students at JDHS and about 450 at TMHS. I am here suggesting, as Thunder Mountain High School opens and begins to establish its identity, that our school district leaders do their best to embrace, support and continue the program and population size differences between the two schools. Differences give meaning to choice.

If Juneau's families are allowed to choose between apples and oranges for their children, we may well be on the to road to the kind of academic and economic success for our students that Erickson laments in his column.

• Clay Good is a Juneau resident and taught science at JDHS from 1985-2007.

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