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A solution in search of a problem

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What: Davis Board of Education workshop on possible grade reconfiguration

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Community Chambers, City Hall, 23 Russell Blvd.

Watch it: Live on cable Channel 17 and as streaming video at www.djusd.tv

By Frank C. Thomsen, Blair Howard, Gail Mitchell, Cathy Haskell, Connie Alexich, Tim Paulson and Ruthie Bowers

There is a new push in our school district to change the grade reconfiguration at our high schools to 9-12 instead of the current 10-12.
We have been urged to “think big” and get ready for a “large-scale change.”

But the district has not clearly articulated why reconfiguration is needed, let alone how the move would save money and improve education. We need more facts and answers before embarking on a change that has the potential to shake up every school in the district.

We have been told that the change would alleviate a fiscal crisis but we’re not told how. Is the aim to close other schools in the district? If so, which schools? And, how much will be saved and how will that money be used to improve education?

(Pardon our skepticism, but the last time we closed down a school to save money, we moved another program into the vacant facility a year later.)

We are encouraged to “innovate and reach even greater heights of learning,” as two school board members stated in a recent op-ed piece, but it remains unclear how adopting the traditional high school model followed by most of the state is a transformative innovation.

To be clear, the Davis Teachers Association has not taken a position on whether ninth-graders should be moved from junior high to high school. We just have too many unanswered questions before we can make a decision; in fact, we have more than 250 of them.

In response to an email asking for input, teachers from every school in the district sent in thoughtful, reasonable questions that deserve a complete answer. We are awaiting a reply from the school board and the superintendent.

The most important questions: Why this push for change? And why now?

This proposal did not come from teachers; it came from district administrators and school board members. Perhaps they know something we don’t know. If so, it is time to share the details, facts and research that support assertions this would result in educational and fiscal benefits.

Even if benefits are identified, our work is not done. We must weigh them against any costs, both financial (what new facilities would be required at Davis High?) and programmatic (should this take top priority over reducing class sizes or addressing other student needs?).

As these discussions continue, it is essential that teachers be included as full participants. Our teachers are worried that the decision already has been made without asking for their input, a perception reinforced by an email invitation to a meeting (later rescinded) that told teachers the topic for discussion was: “What preparations could help facilitate a smooth 9-12 transition for DJUSD?”

There are hopeful signs that teachers’ concerns are now being taken more seriously. At this Thursday’s school board meeting, members will discuss establishing a committee to look more deeply at reconfiguration.

We suggest starting further back: identifying our most pressing problems first, and then searching for solutions. If, instead, we start with a preconceived solution, we are in danger of adopting a plan that might not be best antidote to the challenges we face.

Whatever the outcome, the input of all stakeholders, especially the teachers who work most closely with our children, is essential.

We look forward to joining the conversation.

— Frank C. Thomsen, Blair Howard, Gail Mitchell, Cathy Haskell, Connie Alexich, Tim Paulson and Ruthie Bowers are members of the Davis Teachers Association executive board.

Special to The Enterprise

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