Next Gen plan tweaks in the works

Posted: Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Improvements are being made to the Next Generation education plan in the Juneau School District, following a program review this fall that showed serious flaws in its implementation.

The five-year plan is going into its third year and is intended to create a better educational community and increase student achievement. Its second-year review found while there are successes — like the ninth-grade learning communities — there are just as many areas that need to be reworked or implemented faithfully. The report found students and staff typically find advisory periods to be a waste of time for both students and staff, as some had evolved into little more than a study hall.

The Next Generation committee has been meeting to improve areas like advisories and expand on areas that are working well.

The plan allows for differences in what is offered and how it’s structured between Thunder Mountain High School and Juneau-Douglas High School.

Ryan Alsup, principal of JDHS, told the school board recently the school is expanding and improving its endorsements. He said there has been a lot of staff buy-in for the endorsements. Alsup also said they are continuing on with the ninth-grade learning communities. He said they’ve noticed students asking to be transferred into advisories that better suit their interests.

“It only makes sense to put them in an advisory with someone they can connect with,” he said.

Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling said the key goals for this year have been to create alignment in what’s being offered with the plan, and to offer clarity where staff may not understand.

Board member Mark Choate said he was pleased both TMHS and JDHS principals were working together on Next Generation, but he wanted to know what they’re implementing to make sure this program is positively affecting student achievement.

Scandling said evaluation is a district-wide responsibility.

“We’re about due for a mid-year report,” Scandling said.

That report will detail the key indicators outlined in Next Generation, such as the number of freshman failures; youth involved in activities; demographics; students and their demographics in advanced, honors and Advanced Placement courses; students leaving the school and their corresponding graduation rate, and other indicators.

JDHS Student Council representative Sam Kurland presented the board with a school Next Generation Committee response. Kurland is also the chairman of that committee. The student council, which has about 30 members, drafted an opinion report on the Next Generation plan and views they said represented the entire JDHS student body.

The student committee supports the endorsement model adopted for the current school year, where students can show a “high level of dedication in one or more areas,” the report states. The committee said it does not believe pure academies or learning communities are helpful, but rather “counterproductive in the education of a well-rounded student, as it limits the breadth of one’s studies to focus one particular subject area.”

The student committee believes Choosing Health Options in Cooperative Education and the Early Scholars programs are effective.

It agrees with the earlier report that states advisories in their existing condition are a failure, as they have observed students showing a lack of interest and teachers with a lack of enthusiasm for that portion of the program. The committee recommends scaling back advisories and implementing more enrichment periods, because they better “facilitate communication between teachers and students,” which is one goal of advisories.

Kurland attempted to get input from the Site Council, however there wasn’t enough time at their prior meeting for him to give input. He did e-mail the report to site council members and other interested individuals. Kurland said their informal response was positive and read comments from three members, which urged the district’s Next Generation committee to strongly consider the student report.

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

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