PUBLISHED: 4:05 PM on Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Design your new high school(s)

Imagine you could create the perfect high school.

Perfect curriculum, perfect resources, perfect size and mission, perfect kids.

The really cool thing is this year you really can help design the new Juneau-Douglas High Schools.

I say schools, not just the new Thunder Mountain High School, because the Juneau School District is using construction of a new high school as a launching pad for reviewing and possibly restructuring everything about secondary education in Juneau.

Probably most of us, certainly I at least, assumed that the new school being built now in the Valley would be a duplicate of the older traditional JDHS. That is, the district would take all the kids, teachers and resources and divide them between two smaller, more-or-less equal high schools.

That's not necessarily so.

More correctly, that's now looking like the least likely option.

Right now there are five very distinct, very different options being considered, under these labels:

• Personalized schools-creating five "choice" schools with no more than 400 students, each focused on core themes, including technology, early college, and science/math;

• Two reformed comprehensive high schools-complete programs at both schools;

• One school, two campuses-with a closed JDHS campus for 9/10 grade and an open Thunder Mountain campus for 11/12 grade;

• Academic and career academies-at both campuses structure curriculum in line with the student's choice of career paths;

• Three facilities and multiple choices-with a comprehensive JDHS campus, an alternative Yaakoosge campus and a Thunder Mountain High School including a number of smaller career academies.

Many of these are dramatic departures from high school "business as usual." You've probably already received and maybe read the detailed brochure that the district mailed to local families about these ideas.

But you can see the plans in detail at

This week district officials spent three days holding open houses both on campus and in the community to share more information and also get feedback.

Why do anything different? Because if you use graduation as a measure of success, we're failing a third of the kids in our high school now. Only 65.8 percent of all students who enroll in JDHS will ultimately graduate. Among native students, it's only 48.4 percent.

The tragic reality is that's better than most of Alaska! But it's not good enough.

It's also not any indictment of the current JDHS leadership or staff.

And clearly they're taking the lead in asking for new ideas.

There's a good quote in the district mailer, attributed to someone attending one of the February forums in Auke Bay: "Listen to parents and the community workforce. Don't just listen-also implement or act on above."

Clearly the district wouldn't put that in print if it didn't intend at least in principle to build a high school plan with contributions from every constituency group.

The 35-member high school Advisory Committee will consolidate these ideas and make a final recommendation to the school board in May. That recommendation will become the foundation for Juneau's high school educational plan of the future.

Again, review the proposals at

Then let these folks know what you think:

David Schmid, facilitator, ;

Linda Fiorella, facilitator, ; or Charla Wright, assistant superintendent,

The key ingredient still remaining is public comment.

The number one key to school success is still not buildings, computers or even really great teachers. It's parent and community involvement.

You may recall there were and still are strong critics for the whole idea of more than one high school in Juneau. The reality is that Juneau's had two high schools for a long time, with the alternative Yaakoosge Daakahidi High School catering to students with unique needs.

Imagine if not just those Yaakoosge students, but every high school student in Juneau had exactly the education that suits them best.

We can do exactly that. And you get to decide.

Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly and regional advertising director of Morris Communications newspapers in Alaska, including the Juneau Empire. Send him e-mail at