School Board mulls transition plan

Members concerned about timeline for new curriculum

Posted: Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Next Generation Secondary Planning Committee faced a few questions after presenting its preliminary report to the Juneau School Board on Tuesday during a work session.

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Intended as a review before the public process begins Thursday with a meeting at Floyd Dryden Middle School, the planning committee offered the School Board a three-year transition plan that whittles Juneau-Douglas High School down from its current size to 725 students and builds Thunder Mountain High School from 500 students to 725 students by 2010.

The draft report included academic and extracurricular offerings in a bulleted form.

Discussion centered around the idea of a slower transition into the next generation of education at Juneau-Douglas.

Know and go

• What: A public meeting seeking input on the Next Generation plan.

• When: 7 p.m. Thursday.

• Where: Floyd Dryden Middle School.

"We've been getting a lot of public input, and one thing is clear - we need a transition plan," Superintendent Peggy Cowan said.

If the proposed plan doesn't change after public review this month, the new curriculum model would begin at Juneau-Douglas during the 2008-09 school year with only one "small learning community" for ninth-graders and one "themed academy" for others.

A "small learning community" is about 100 students working with five teachers. "Themed academies" allow a group of students and teachers to cover a wide subject area while focusing on architecture, engineering and construction. The board accepted both concepts last June.

By year three, Juneau-Douglas will have three themed academies and 200 ninth-graders would be educated in two small learning communities, Juneau-Douglas Principal Bernie Sorenson said. But not all students at Juneau-Douglas will be in a themed academy, he added.

The plan offered no academy titles beyond the architecture, engineering and construction academy starting at Juneau-Douglas next year.

Courses covering core graduation requirements, college and advanced college preparation courses are rolled into the communities and academies.

Thunder Mountain will start with two small learning communities that include all ninth-graders. Additionally, two themed academies with advisory programs will be offered, Thunder Mountain principal Patti Bippus said.

By the third year of the plan, Thunder Mountain would host three themed academies. Bippus said she hoped to tap into the Early Scholars Program during the second and third years.

Board Member Destiny Sargeant asked about the transition timeline. She said the proposed plan does not have all students at Juneau-Douglas in long-sought academies even after three years.

"Why?" she asked.

Sorenson said that 27 years of experience tells her that a transition period is key. The research shows it's easier to change a new school rather than an existing school, she said.

School Board Vice President Phyllis Carlson countered with a philosophy of "jump right in." Other schools caution against a slow transition, she said.

Sorenson said Juneau-Douglas will go through significant change during the next 36 months as half of the students, teachers and staff leave for Thunder-Mountain.

"JDHS is not off the hook on personalization and equity," she said.

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