As the parent of a fifth grader, I have watched with trepidation our community's efforts to solve overcrowding at JDHS. Construction of the new high school is behind about $360 million in other higher priority projects.
The funds for remodeling JDHS may come after this legislative season, but there is no place to put JDHS students while this work proceeds. Why should our high school students suffer construction noise and dust along with overcrowding, lack of desks, and other scarcities? How can we expect teachers to excel in this stressful working environment? Why should we squeeze five or more classes through this unsupportive system?
We can and should do something about overcrowding now. According to School Superintendent Gary Bader, projected enrollment next year for JDHS is up. Projected enrollment for the elementary schools is down. We can leave this year's fifth- and eighth-graders right where they are, while we work on JDHS and push for the earliest possible funding for the new high school. If we do not get the funding soon, we can keep the elementary schools as K-6 and the middle and high schools with three grades each.
I am told there is a broad community commitment to the "middle school concept" as the best way to prepare children for high school. Prepare them for what! Many of us have friends who have moved away or opted for boarding school because the situation at JDHS was untenable for their children. If anyone doubts how overcrowding at the high school can motivate families to uproot, please visit JDHS at lunchtime or during class breaks and see firsthand what our children endure.
Our students' CAT 5 Test scores attest to real erosion in academic performance after a few years at JDHS. In 1999, Juneau had 8 percent more fourth-graders ranked in the top quartile in reading and 11 percent more in math than the statewide results. In that year Juneau had 9 percent more eighth-graders in the top quartiles of both math and reading than the state as a whole. But there were only 2 percent more 11th-grade Juneau students in the top quartile of reading and only 1 percent more in the top quartile of math. Let us revisit our hierarchy of needs, and act now to give our children the room they need to grow and learn.
Margaret O'Neal is the mother of two sons in Juneau public schools. She also is a classroom volunteer.
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