Students depart Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)

Students depart Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)

My Turn: Consolidating into one modestly sized high school is best for Juneau’s students

It has been known for years that the Juneau School District student population (which is where funding begins) has been dropping and will continue to drop. This coupled with the current financial issues clearly makes now the time for the leadership to provide proactive responses that will best address the needs of our youth.

I do not believe the parents of Juneau students truly understand how far the programs of the two main high schools have been degraded and how much has been lost as the student population has plummeted. People believe that both high schools still have 700 students each, but that has not been true for many years.

The needs of our youth must be the focus, not sports teams, not infrastructure, etc. By far, having one modestly sized high school with 70 teachers is superior to two small schools of 500 students with 25 teachers to best address the needs of all of the students. Those who need the most help, those highest performing students, and all the rest in-between.

Credit recovery, AP courses, languages, arts, electives, all have drastically been cut back and eliminated. The loss of the superb auto shop program at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé was closed last year, many of the mechanics in this town attended this program, do we need any better example of trying to keep the youth of Alaska living here than that? It was painful to split the high schools, and there will be challenges merging back, but it is what the students deserve — and need. Having the one main high school, with the continued support of Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi alternative high school, will allow for bringing back many of the things that have been lost the last 10-15 years and, indeed, is the only way to preserve any further loss of academic programs. The merged one school will also be able to offer a robust number of sports and club activities to supplement students’ academics.

As the leaders of the distict and city attempt to chart the path forward, there are many concerns about change. Of course change can be hard. Interesting to note that the grades of the schools have been changed numerous times over the decades to address the needs and situations of the times. For example, JDHS was grades 8-12 in the past. JDHS was also grades 10-12. Of course high school record starts at 9th grade, but there were many benefits to having 13- and 14-year-old 9th graders spend another year maturing separate of the young adult 16-18 year olds and their driving cars and dating and starting to face what comes after high school.

These decisions will be hashed out one way or another, but it is imperative that the focus remain on what is in the best needs of our youth? One main modestly sized high school will offer the best opportunities for our youth to be successful.

• Kurt S. Dzinich Jr. has lived in Juneau for 45 years, and taught history and coached tennis at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé for 30 years until 2021.

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