PUBLISHED: 4:46 PM on Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Fresh look at junior high could solve new high school mess
An interesting situation has arisen concerning the new high school here in Juneau. With a good part of the school completed or almost completed, the district is having trouble finding enough students to go there.

Not that the district wasn't warned several times that their predictions of the future number of high school students in Juneau was wrong. They, like Chicken Little, went their merry way and sold their biased analysis to the public with a lot of fear-mongering concerning an over-crowded Juneau/Douglas High School that would not be capable of giving a good education to the students.

I don't know the total we have spent or will continue to spend to get our new school completed but it's a heck of a lot more than they originally told us it was going to cost. But isn't that always the way? They trump up the problems, throw in a high level of fear and trepidation, and lowball the costs until we are so far into the project we can't back out and then ask us to agree to the real cost of the project.

Well, in this case, all may not be lost. We can still dig our way out of this mess. My solution is as follows:

The first thing that needs to be recognized is the whole middle school concept is flawed and, at least here in Juneau, has failed. Fifth graders, upon graduation, are just not ready to move from the elementary level to the bottom rung in the middle school system.

We create a lot of our future drop out problems by moving these kids into a middle school before they are ready.

I propose that we change to junior high schools made up of seventh through ninth grades. I further propose that the old Juneau/Douglas High School be made into a Junior High and the new high school be renamed the Juneau/Douglas High School. It would have only three grades (Sophomore, Junior, and Senior).

The total student population of the high school would be a nice fit; about 1000 students. There are several positive advantages for this proposal:

1) The athletics would not be split between two high schools.

2) Track and field athletics would be close to the high school.

3) All Juneau high school students would receive the advantage of going to a new school with all the latest equipment.

4) Having only three grades in the high school would allow fewer students per class.

5) Having three junior high schools would thin out the population in each school and allow fewer students per class. The drop out rate in the seventh, eighth and ninth grades are pretty serious now; having the ability to focus on these three grades should alleviate some of the problems.

As we all know, high schools cost big bucks to build. Elementary schools are cheaper. I know if we make the above adjustment that we might need to expand some of our elementary schools here in Juneau but the cost, in the long run, should be much less than trying to run two under utilized high schools.