Compass: Don't shortchange middle schools or any schools

By SCOTT KLUEVERJanuary 20, 2014 

The education reform movement credited with converting traditional junior high schools into today's middle schools began in the United States about 50 years ago. Parents and educators understood that educating children during the midst of emotional and social maturation requires a school setting very different from the junior high models then considered the education standard.

The reforms are evidence-based. They emphasize teacher collaboration that, among other things, detects student needs a lone teacher might miss.

Additionally, our children's transition into adulthood requires a school structure vastly different from the elementary schools they've recently exited and the senior high schools they will soon enter.

The Anchorage School District (ASD) converted its junior high schools into middle schools about 20 years ago and has invested millions in our near and early teens over the years through their continued support of the middle school model.

ASD's support is reflected in the brick and mortar buildings unique to middle school instruction, the ongoing professional development for teachers choosing to work with 12-year-olds (Yes, some of us really do love teaching this age group.) and through the curricular support aimed at maximizing the key CORE concepts taught in middle school in conjunction with the social emotional learning standards so critical for this age group.

The transition period into adulthood requires a school structure unique to their needs. And while the physical environment of the school is important in facilitating much of the middle school model, the expertise of the teachers, administrators and support staff is what makes a middle school successful for our children.

The Anchorage School District is facing a sizable budget shortfall. Every program in ASD's budget could face potential cutbacks. Statewide, hundreds of teaching and staff positions have been cut in the past three years. In Anchorage, more teaching positions will likely be cut and class sizes will grow starting next year! Times are tough for public education all over Alaska.

Our legislators and governor have placed our school districts in un-winnable situations. Their sound bites declaring how lawmakers have fully funded education in Alaska would be laughable if not so pitifully sad - though there are many legislators who have stood up strongly for public schools and student opportunity. But if you are a child in Head Start programs, a teen struggling to stay in school or a new graduate looking for help getting into the right school, don't look to Juneau for help.

This brings me back to middle school, one of the best decisions the ASD has made regarding the education of our children. There are studies showing middle school success is a key predictor of how a child will succeed in high school and beyond, especially when looking at both interest and success in the upper level math and science classes needed for the quality STEM careers predicted for the foreseeable future.

I urge our district leaders to tread cautiously as they negotiate through the fiscal difficulties facing the district. The middle school model we have in Anchorage has benefitted countless children over the years. It has provided a successful environment for our children as they move through the difficult changes in their social, intellectual and emotional lives.

Quality education requires investment. That investment will pay dividends to all Alaskans down the road. The education cuts our children have experienced by the hands of our Governor and lawmakers will last for years. A common saying "Education Cuts Never Heal" holds a lot of truth. It is a shame that school boards across Alaska are being put into such unsustainable situations.

Call your representatives in Juneau. Tell them to fund education in a manner that doesn't create continued classroom cutbacks in Alaska, and ask if they've been ones who have tried to reverse this trend, or have voted for it. And please call the Anchorage School Board in support of the middle school model of education. It is the right thing for our children.

Scott Kluever is an Anchorage School District middle school teacher and an Einstein Distinguished STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) Educator.

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