ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — While the Anchorage School District is working to balance its budget, thousands of teachers and parents say students needs are falling short at the middle school level, and they say ASD's reshuffling of academic priorities for the sake of cost savings is at the heart of the issue.
In August, members of the Anchorage Education Association started the online petition Bring Back Middle School in the Anchorage School District! which has since been signed by more than 3,200 people.
For many, the difference between middle school and junior high might seem semantic, but for educators, the shift away from the middle school model to the junior high school model at the beginning of the school year is anything but.
Under the "middle school model," a core team of teachers worked together to help guide students focusing on team teaching, a seven-period day, two electives instead of one and block scheduling.
Among the proponents of the middle school model is Gruening Middle School teacher Bryce Purcella, who says he wants to make sure students are getting the schooling and mentoring they need to be successful in high school.
"The philosophy before was to group kids according to peer groups so they were working on team," Purcella said. "They had a science teacher, social studies teacher, and a math teacher that met collaboratively, that focused on the needs of their students."
Under the junior high school model, teachers have an additional class every day — six classes four days a week and seven classes one day a week — time that used to be allocated for planning and collaboration with other teachers.
Anchorage School District Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop says the middle school model was changed over budget concerns.
"It is really about opportunity costs," Bishop said. "If middle school is to be reconsidered, that's $4.4 million to go back to what we had."
ASD said that to continue to fund every position and program at the same level as the previous year, the school district would incur a $13.1 million deficit.