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Next Generation school plan not working as hoped

Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2010

A new study on year two of the district's Next Generation plan shows much of the plan is not being implemented at two Juneau School District high schools as the plan's third year begins.

That has school board member Destiny Sargeant upset the plan is not being put into place as quickly or in the manner it was set up to be.

"I'm very disappointed and appalled by this today, because it's not being followed with integrity," she said. "After three years, it's pitiful. It's a great plan, it's all mapped out. I don't believe it's entirely budgetary. I'm not willing to be patient on the third year."

She said she wants the issue to go into executive session at the next school board meeting because she believes the problems need to be addressed at an executive level.

The Next Generation plan was created in 2008 to reform Thunder Mountain and Juneau-Douglas high schools as theme-based academies, add ninth-grade learning communities and an advisory program and provide flexibility to move among small learning communities.

Other priorities with Next Generation were to "offer students equitable access to all programs, choices, provide learning environments that foster success for all students, ensure students are well known academically, socially and emotionally, engage families and community members and grow graduates who are confident, responsible and resilient."

This is the second year a student, staff and faculty survey was conducted on the implementation of the program.

One possible reason for the district's struggles in implementing the plan might have been identified in an anonymous response, which was quoted in Tuesday's report. That response pointed out the people who drove Next Generation - including a past superintendent, two past principals and others are gone. They stated that programs show great success with the people who drive it. "I'm not sure where it's gonna go," they said.

Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said there needs to be more staff development, and the program won't succeed until that happens.

He said some of the issues may be budgetary. However he said school districts across the country with even smaller budgets have successfully implemented Next Generation.

Angela Larson, with Goldstream Group, is a Type A Certified teacher who presented the results to the school board. The survey found both positive and negative factors that continue to exist in the detailed Next Generation plan.

The Good:

• A key component - the ninth-grade learning communities - have been successfully implemented in both high schools.

Students and staff in both schools feel that the communities with teams of teachers are able to better connect with students, according to the survey. Most students feel they have someone they can talk to if they need to. More than half of the ninth-grade students said their learning community is "very" or "extremely" important to their academic success.

The remaining challenge is dealing with implementing math and sciences. Thunder Mountain pulled math out of the school learning communities and provides it now in modules. Juneau-Douglas has divided the small learning communities based on math scores, one lower and one higher.

Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling said in the first year, a math teacher would have a broad spectrum of students in their math levels. She said a teacher would have a student who needed remediation up to a student who was in advanced placement.

"They had to prepare classes for five levels of students with one teacher," Scandling said. "It's virtually impossible for a teacher to be prepared for five separate classes."

Scandling said the school needs to look at equity.

"If you are placing kids based on what they need, that's really important," she said. "If you're working on a system that's highly tilted, we need to look at that."

• There is a sense of choice and equity at both high schools. The majority of staff feel students feel there are good strategies available to help honor students and support at-risk students, however the implementation isn't quite to par, according to the survey.

• There is a strong sense of personalization at both schools. Staff members feel students and teachers are able to connect better and the high schools provide a personal, caring environment.

• Family and community involvement with the schools has increased since 2008-2009.

The Bad:

• Theme-based academies have not been implemented to the same extent as ninth-grade learning communities. Some programs have been started that provide benefits of a small learning community, however, they do not reflect the academy structure described in the plan. Thunder Mountain does have two academies implemented - one focused on exploration and discovery and another on global expressions - however it struggles to provide differentiated math and science levels. Academies are being modified at JDHS this year.

• Advisory periods are widely viewed as a failure or "waste of time" by faculty and students. The report reveals that there is no grade earned for participating so there is no student buy-in. Only 21 percent of students participate. The advisory period in many cases is a glorified study hall, which was not the intent of the sessions. The study found that while an advisory curriculum is developed, teachers have not received professional development to deliver the program to students.

• Shared planning time for faculty is not working. The staff feels it needs more time and resources, however the study also shows staff cooperation isn't strong. The report found 66 percent of staff shared a common prep period at JDHS and 36 percent at Thunder Mountain. It found only 29 percent of staff used instructional data to make decisions at Thunder Mountain, while 56 percent of JDHS staff used such data.

Early Release Mondays planned for this year are expected to help this area.

• Instructional practices targeted in the plan, such as literacy in every class regardless of topic, are not being widely used. Scandling said an average of 30 new terms can be introduced in any text - math, science, history, etc. - per page.

"They assume all kids can read at a high school level, and not all can," she said.

Part of the plan is supposed to use structured literacy to tackle texts. It will help students assess what they're being asked to read and are to be given comprehension strategies.

• More than half of staff believe there isn't much support from the district for schools in implementing Next Generation.

• The organizational change is a challenge for faculty at both schools. Juneau-Douglas staff are becoming less and less supportive.

• Contact Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.



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