A Mesa Unified School District proposal to move ninth-graders to its comprehensive high schools over the next two years is drawing a lot of ire from one junior high. Parents, teachers and students at Rhodes Junior High World Studies Academy say removing the ninth-graders would disrupt what has become a productive educational setting with an international flair.
A Mesa Unified School District proposal to move ninth-graders to its comprehensive high schools over the next two years is drawing a lot of ire from one junior high.
Parents, teachers and students at Rhodes Junior High World Studies Academy say removing the ninth-graders would disrupt what has become a productive educational setting with an international flair.
The Mesa district’s governing board is currently considering seven administrative recommendations for changes slated to begin next school year. The first recommendation is to move ninth-graders to Dobson, Westwood and Skyline high schools next school year in “phase one.”
The recommendation calls for students to move to the district’s other three comprehensive high schools — Red Mountain, Mountain View and Mesa — the following school year in “phase two.”
The district’s board will allow public comment on the recommendations for a second time during its regularly scheduled board meeting 7 p.m. Tuesday in the board room at the curriculum services center, 549 N. Stapley Drive. A vote is currently scheduled for Jan. 12.
Rhodes supporters first raised concerns about the proposal during a study session in November.
The “world studies academy” piece at Rhodes Junior High is only in its second year. The program came about after the school’s staff was told to find a way to reinvent itself in light of drastically declining enrollment, said Jeannine Kuropatkin, a ninth-grade world history and geography teacher at the school.
After several town halls and proposals to both the district and state education leadership teams, the world studies academy came into place during the 2008-09 school year.
Besides the focus on learning how world issues impact everyone, there are two major differences between Rhodes and its fellow Mesa junior high schools: The school operates on a seven-class schedule vs. the standard six-class schedule, but within the same number of hours daily. The school also requires that its eighth- and ninth-graders enroll in a foreign language.
Kuropatkin raised concerns that the district would no longer be able to support the increased class schedule if the ninth-graders are removed. In addition, she and others wonder how the school will be able to continue its language requirement if the campus only serves seventh and eighth grades.
In Mesa, eighth-graders and ninth-graders, though they are not currently on a high school campus, can earn high school credit when they enroll in high school-level language, math and science courses.
Superintendent Mike Cowan said he believes in what is being done at Rhodes.
“I have a great deal of respect for what Rhodes has accomplished at their school, but I am confident they will be able to continue the program at the same level of confidence with a seventh- and eighth-grade population as they have done with a seventh- through ninth-grade population,” he told the Tribune on Friday.
He said the school’s decision to have a different schedule is site-based and should not be affected if the governing board approves the recommendation to move the ninth-graders.
“When they say it would disassemble their seven-period day, that would not be anything that would be a result of the recommendation. Those concerns are unfounded in regard to anything related to the recommendations,” Cowan said.
Susan Powers’ son attends Rhodes. He is in the eighth grade, and she wants him to have the opportunity to stay at the school next school year.
“I don’t feel that Dobson is ready to take ninth-graders,” she said, noting that the school currently has a few ninth-graders as part of a pilot program. “The facility is not ready. It’s not set up for that. Maybe in the future, but really not in time for August. No way,” she said.
Her other concern is that her son would lose an elective at the high school level because Dobson and other secondary schools in Mesa operate with six classes a day.
The district’s Web site, Defining the Future, explains that “District administrators have been meeting with junior and senior high school principals for many months to discuss the recommendations.”
It goes on to say the district is looking at the physical requirements of adding more students as well as the possibility of moving portable classrooms, transportation and scheduling changes to address the enrollment change.
A few teachers at Rhodes told the Tribune that they wonder how they will be able to mentally prepare their current eighth-graders for a transition to high school in August amid spring’s testing schedule. One teacher said they usually spend much of the ninth-grade year focusing the students on that move.
“That’s one of our concerns. Slow down. Back off. Give us another year. We’re talking now to the ninth-graders (about moving),” said Marta Connally, a ninth-grade English teacher and mom to three students in Mesa schools. If the plan is approved for eighth-graders to move to high school in the 2010-11 school year, “They’ll just going to be thrown into high school. Ninth-grade year is the transition. Eighth-graders won’t get that.”