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Teachers weigh in on moving ninth-graders

DHS teacher Jerry DeCamp asks a question during a reconfiguration meeting about a possible move of ninth-graders from junior high to the high school program. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | March 14, 2013 | Leave Comment

Davis school district administrators met with junior high and high school teachers for two hours Wednesday to discuss the possible reconfiguration of grades in Davis schools — and more specifically, the pros and cons of moving ninth-graders to the high school.

The topic generated plenty of lively, sometimes heated, discussion.

The session began in the high school’s theater, with Superintendent Winfred Roberson stressing that no recommendations or decisions — or even “preliminary decisions” — had been made by the school board or district administrators. In January, the board directed Roberson to do research and talk with staff and parents about a possible reconfiguration, starting with the possibility of moving ninth-graders from junior high campuses to the high school.

The impetus is both programmatic and fiscal. A high school configuration covering grades 9-12 is standard in most school districts. Davis High is one of a handful in the state configured for grades 10-12, and the trustees asked Roberson to look at whether the current program is the best way to serve students.

The district continues to face a roughly $1.5 million structural deficit, consistently spending more than it receives in revenue. Davis has seen substantial reductions in funding from the state over the past five years, and those cuts have not all been restored. Associate Superintendent Bruce Colby has said it will be several years before the district gets back to the level of state funding seen in 2007, when the state budget crisis began.

Reconfiguring grades could lead to the closure of one or more schools, which would be one way of bringing the district’s budget into balance.

Questions abounded Wednesday. Cathy Haskell, a former president of the Davis Teachers Association, asked what the timeline for reconfiguration might be. Roberson said he’s looking at the 2014-15 school year at the soonest.

Teacher Jeanne Reeve of Holmes Junior High said many in the community have been caught off guard by the idea of reconfiguration. “I don’t recall it being an issue in November’s school board election. When (statewide) Proposition 30 and (local parcel tax) Measure E were passed, there was great relief,” she said. Reeve asked why the board directed Roberson to look at reconfiguration in January, “as opposed to October, before the election.”

He responded that there was a sigh of relief when Prop. 30 and Measure E passed. Approval of those measures prevented further budget cuts that otherwise would have occurred this year. “But they did not solve all our financial issues as a district,” Roberson said.

Workshop participants broke up into three groups — one focusing on facilities/financial issues, another discussing academics and program, a third examining social/climate issues.

Colby explained that if ninth-graders were assigned to the high school program, enrollment at Davis High would grow from the current 1,700 students to about 2,200. Da Vinci High also would see an increase of about 100 students, Colby said, and enrollment also would grow at King High and the Davis School for Independent Study. Colby said the high school program still would consist of a seven-period day.

He asked teachers to consider what might need to be added at DHS to handle an additional 500 students. DHS English teacher Widgen Neagley responded, “We desperately need a multipurpose room now. We have students sitting in the hallways eating their lunch.” (The Davis High MPR was closed in 2010 when toxic mold was discovered; it is slated for demolition this summer.)

Lance Gunnersen, a junior high career technical education teacher, and music teacher Greg Brucker worried about whether ninth-graders would have access to elective courses. There are shop classes and music classes at each of the three junior highs; Gunnersen and Brucker worried that moving ninth-graders to the high school might result in a “dramatic reduction” in opportunities to take such classes, as Gunnersen put it. Another teacher asked, “Will there be enough seats in band at the high school if we add more students?”

Davis High teacher Ingrid Salim worried that a 2,200-student high school would cause climate problems like bullying and negatively impact the academic performance of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Other teachers said the high school computer lab and library don’t have enough equipment even now, and some of the equipment is antiquated.

Still others said that when ninth-graders are in a junior high setting, they are the oldest students on the campus and take a leadership role, whereas in a 9-12 configuration, ninth-graders tend to be regarded as “lowly freshmen.” But others noted that the Common Core academic standards, which are being phased in across California, assume that ninth-graders are studying in a high school setting, and said that ninth-graders are more likely to take their academic work seriously if they are on a campus with sophomores, juniors and seniors.

Some teachers said the current configuration is working well, with Davis students scoring well on tests, and a high percentage of them going on to college. “Should we fix something that isn’t broken?” one asked.

After the meeting, Roberson told The Enterprise, “Overall, I am pleased with secondary staff’s participation in our reconfiguration workshops and look forward to dialogue with other stakeholders.”

Similar workshop sessions with the district’s elementary school teachers and the community at large are planned soon. Dates for those sessions have not been announced.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at jhudson@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8055.

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