My Turn: Tough issues face the district

Posted: Thursday, October 02, 2003

We would like to thank the 10 new candidates running for school board seats in Tuesday's election. We appreciate their willingness to support teachers, create a positive atmosphere for students, target populations who are disenfranchised and find creative ways to increase funding.

The newly-elected board will have to make some very difficult decisions due to a potential loss of $3 million in next year's budget. In our last department leader meeting, we were told that five to eight teachers will be cut from the high school next year, some programs may be eliminated and class sizes will swell to 35-37 pupils. Budgetary cuts are forcing the district to make tough choices, but cutting teachers or cramming over 30 students into a room seriously impedes our ability to help students succeed. How can we develop meaningful relationships with 175-185 young people (five classes of 35-37 students)? How can we respond thoughtfully to their work or give them the personal attention that they need and deserve? If we are to be held accountable for our students' success, we need resources, time and support.

Many of the candidates mentioned lobbying the Legislature, trimming administrative costs and writing grants to address budget shortfalls, rather than cutting programs and teachers. This mindset is exactly what Juneau needs. We hope that parents, school board members, teachers, community members and anyone who cares about excellence in education will lobby the Legislature to increase school funding and will push the district to find grants to support important programs. One may argue that our advocacy for manageable class sizes conflicts with our current contract negotiations, but a community committed to quality education should be able to give its teachers competitive living wages and provide reasonable working and learning conditions.

Most importantly, we hope that this new board will give us respect as professionals and some input into decision-making. Mr. Cohen stated, "You cannot change the educational system except one teacher at a time because teachers have so much autonomy" (Juneau Empire, 9/25/03). In reality, the school board and our administrators make the decisions that affect us. Most teachers have little input into their teaching assignments. Many of us have had our assignments shifted just days before the beginning of the school year, forcing us to abandon the planning we had completed throughout the summer in order to prepare for a population with completely different needs.

It is an incredible honor and responsibility to be entrusted with the intellectual and emotional growth of your children. Our firm belief in every child's potential to grow is what keeps us energized. It is what keeps teachers at Floyd Dryden enthusiastic despite having no ceiling tiles and having to shout over the noise floating in from other classes. It is what gives elementary teachers the vigor to greet 27 kindergartners with authentic warmth and concern each day. It is what inspires members of the high school English department to spend over 30 hours beyond our contractual time to respond to over 150 papers every time we ask our students to write.

Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's election, we hope that parents, teachers, community members and school board representatives see that we are all united in the same purpose: to help all students succeed.

Alison McKenna, Barb Bonner, Bill Chalmers, Linda Dapcevich, Kristin Garot, George Gress, Casady Herding, Karen Klein, Lynn Meyers, Carol Pratt and Karin Reyes

Members of the JDHS English department

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