Archive for Sunday, August 13, 2000

Summit Outcome

August 13, 2000


It probably won't be long before school officials must take another look at what schools local ninth-graders should attend.

It never hurts to take another look at ways to do things better.

That's pretty much what participants in the local junior high school "summit" did last week. They came up with some interesting ideas, some of which may spur controversy before they are either implemented or rejected.

One of those potentially controversial ideas was to reconfigure the junior high school day to provide three 90-minute class periods and two 45-minute periods. The new system would help bring new order to a school day that the summit participants now see as too fragmented.

Eight classes in a day are too many, they say. The classes are too short to allow teachers to teach and interact with students effectively. The classes hardly give teachers time to cover a single topic, let alone delve more deeply into the topic, relate it to other topics or spend time with students who need some extra attention.

The concept doesn't seem like a bad one, and it may even have some real educational benefits for Lawrence students, but there are many details that would need to be worked out, including what subjects would be taught in the longer class periods and how teachers would be allocated.

Randy Weseman, who led the summit as interim superintendent, certainly has a strong base of knowledge from his years as principal of Lawrence's South Junior High School. His decision to steer clear of a discussion of moving ninth-grade to the high school probably was wise because it would have sidetracked the group from other more urgent topics.

However, the idea of reconfiguring junior high class periods may indirectly bring the ninth-grade issue back to the forefront in the near future. Unlike seventh- and eighth-graders, ninth-graders are beginning to follow a high school curriculum and accumulate credits toward high school graduation.

Ninth-graders who are ready to pursue more advanced high school classes already are hampered by the fact that those classes aren't offered at their schools. A junior high day that includes only five class periods may further complicate their pursuit of a high school curriculum. The "block" format of longer class periods might suit seventh- and eighth-graders better than it serves ninth-graders.

A number of objections have been raised by local residents to the idea of moving ninth-graders to the high schools. Some believe they are not emotionally mature enough to deal with a high school environment. Others believe that moving the ninth-graders would only hasten overcrowding at the city's two high schools.

Any age that is declared the right age to start high school is going to be more appropriate for some youngsters than for others. It seems unlikely that moving up the high school experience by one year would seriously injure students, and it might facilitate their education. Facilities shouldn't be the sole determinant for the ninth-grade decision. Junior highs already are overcrowded. Whether ninth-graders remain in the junior highs or move to the high schools, it is almost certain that the school district will need new facilities to meet the need.

The state's standards are based on a four-year high school education. Lawrence is one of only seven districts in the state that still split that education into one year in a junior high and three years in high school.

Last week may not have been the right time to tackle this issue, but it is sure to come up again. When it does, local school officials and community members should again open their minds and be willing to consider various ways to do things better.

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