Should DJUSD Alter its Secondary Education Grade Level Configuration and School Facilities?

An interesting discussion is beginning in the next few weeks, there will be site level meetings beginning tonight at Emerson, tomorrow night at Harper, next Tuesday at Holmes, and a week from Thursday at Davis High. The purpose of these meetings will be to gather input from parents and local residents in particular about grade-level configuration and district facilities.

Currently Davis High School is set up as a Grade 10 through 12 school. That is rather unusual however, most high schools, 90 percent in California in fact, are 9 through 12. Such a configuration represents both advantages and disadvantages as we learned last year through some preliminary discussion.

One of the big advantages is that it allows 9th graders to remain on junior high campuses rather than pushing them to the high school where they face added pressures as has been stated a number of times–it tends to keep the ninth graders younger rather than mixing them with 16 to 18 year-olds.

On the downside, the curriculum for 9th graders is set up more like that of the high school, this forces the junior high to provide those level classes to 9th graders resulting in inefficiencies and economy of scale problems.

In an November interview with the Enterprise, Superintendent James Hammand emphasized the fact that no decision had been made yet.

He said:

“One of the main things I’m seeking is for people to evaluate grade configuration through a couple of lenses… One is the programmatic and instructional lens. Are we configured the best way possible, the best way to maximize student achievement”

“The other lens is the fiscal and physical lens. When you take a headcount of our students, and look at our facilities, are we as efficient and effective as we can be?”

However, a number of groups and community members have expressed concerns about the change.

Becky Linville, Eric Davis, and Paul Stukas recently wrote a letter in opposition to the current proposal:

“We write on behalf of the Davis Friends of Neighborhood Schools, formed to support the current grade-level configuration of Davis schools (K-6, 7-9 and 10-12). We oppose the Davis Joint Unified School District’s expected proposal to move approximately 680 ninth-graders into the crowded Davis High School campus of 1,700-plus students.

The district has shown no evidence that such a reconfiguration will assist the academic or emotional growth of our ninth-graders, or any other students in the district. Why risk our district’s current academic achievements and low dropout rate by such a profound change?”

On the group’s website:

“Friends of Neighborhood Schools believes there should be a compelling reason to change the Grade Level Configuration of the Davis Schools. At this point, we do not believe a compelling case has been shown. We have not seen any evidence or research that shows changes to the Grade Level Configuration will improve the quality of our children’s education.

If 680 ninth graders are moved to the high schools next school year, there will be a net increase of approximately 400 students at DHS (assuming Da Vinci High School moves to Valley Oak and 80% of the Da Vinci students will move). Many people in Davis think DHS is too crowded now; how will it be with a net increase of 400 students? [NOTE: The Da Vinci Charter Academy petition approved by the School Board includes 10-12th grades at Valley Oak, and 7-9th grades phased in at Emerson Jr. High].”

The big question at this point is whether this is a fiscal decision or an educational decision. There seems to be costs associated with the current model in terms of providing the range of classes for 9th graders. On the other hand, it appears that moving kids to the high school would have drawbacks as well. As the group stated above, Davis High is already considered too large, and now you could propose making it a campus of 1700 students. The alternative would be to create two smaller high schools, but that would incur cost of converting a Junior High Campus, possibly Harper into a High School Campus.

The real question is whether the current system is actually broke rather than whether Davis schools are unusual. The fiscal environment make such matters important, but educational considerations ought to first come first.

Board President Gina Daleiden:

“I would like the discussion to include a broad conversation about our educational system, including financial, education and facilities uses in the future… It is very difficult to look at any of these pieces in isolation.”

Boardmember Sheila Allen:

“I’ll be interested in a balanced analysis of both the educational and fiscal impacts of various grade and site configurations. While we need to continue to look for financial efficiencies, we have to ensure that our excellent programs are supported by the structure at our schools.”

Boardmember Susan Lovenburg:

“We must consider carefully the educational and social aspects of a change in our current grade configuration, as well as the financial implications. How do we best serve our students given the resources available? And understanding what the community values is an important part of making this decision.”

While the issue is likely to cause controversy, the district appears at this point to be going about this the right way, by having meetings and reaching out to the community first before any decision is made. That is the fortunate part of acting proactively rather than what happened last Spring when the district was in crisis and desperately looking for any way possible to save money.

Here are the times and the locations:

* TONIGHT at Emerson Junior High

* TOMORROW NIGHT at Harper Junior High

* Tuesday, Jan. 27, at Holmes Junior High

* Thursday, Jan. 29, at Davis High School

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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21 Comments

  1. Fed Up

    This is nothing more than a veiled attempt to see how much opposition there will be to closing Emerson. If parents from Harper and Holmes are not particularly bothered by the new configuration, and only a third of the town in West Davis has a problem, then you can bet on it that Emerson will go under the ax as a cost saving measure. Just think, no renovations for Emerson will be necessary, so that there will be plenty of money to fix the DHS stadium. Meanwhile Bruce Colby gets a raise, money is set aside to upgrade the DHS stadium as the number one priority, and five new courses are developed, one of which is …Baroque Chamber Music…. Talk about a clueless School Board/District. Or is it we who are clueless, in letting the School Board/District continually get away with this?

  2. Mike Hart

    I am not entirely clear on what this change would solve, but what about one of the Junior High campuses being converted to 9th grade only? That way they would all be together for that difficult transitional year before going to HS. Keeps the pressure off the HS, and keeps all the campuses open.I am a big fan of the 3-year high school by the way, so I like the current system.

  3. David M. Greenwald

    Weird is a strange word to use here. First of all, though rare in California, it is not unprecendented.Second, aside from convention, what is …weird… about it? To some extent it’s weird to put 14 year olds in a school with 18 year olds.

  4. Chuck

    …I don’t know about the money aspect of it or whatever, but I think it is weird that 9th graders are at the junior high….A matter of perspective. I went to a 7-9 JH in another state, and I think it’s weird to be anxious for a 9-12 HS system.I watched one of my kids go through a 9-12 system, and think he probably would have fared better in Davis’ system.In a 7-9 JH, 9th graders get to assume the position of role models and leaders in the school. In a 9-12 HS, 9th graders are the low ones on the totem pole.

  5. Anonymous

    *and five new courses are developed, one of which is …Baroque Chamber Music…. Talk about a clueless School Board/District. Or is it we who are clueless, in letting the School Board/District continually get away with this?*Amen! And let’s get rid of Jazz band and Madrigals and stuff them into larger performance groups. I hope you’ll run for school board next time aroun!

  6. Anonymous

    I don’t see the closure of Emerson Jr. High as an ‘agenda item’ for the school board. In fact, if you read the approved charter for Da Vinci, their charter calls for the implementation of a 7-9 strand AT Emerson Jr. High. I am concerned though about this issue of grade configuration. Who is calling for this? The community? From what I can tell, no one in the Davis community was asking for our grade levels to be switched. True, the 10-12 and 7-9 models are not common throughout the nation, but are we adjusting simply to be in line with everyone else?I want to know how 9 going to the high school will BENEFIT students. Is this going to better serve our student population? Our current performance and scores show a high level of success being achieved at DHS. Is this going to improve by changing the levels around? Will a 7-8 junior high (or a 6-8) improve the performance at those sites?

  7. tansey thomas

    The idea of an all 9th grade junior high school is very interesting to me. Having 9th grade at DHS is frightening for some of the smaller boys who fear bullying by the …big guys…. However, closing Emerson should not be an option.

  8. Becky Linvill

    Last week, the School Board surprised us and voted for a revised Da Vinci Charter Academy that includes 7-9th grade at Emerson Jr. High and 10-12th grades at Valley Oak. This decision will benefit the entire community because it:sad:1) Brings in additional charter ADA funding ($500 or $1500 per student);(2) Keeps smaller schools for the 3Junior Highs and Davis High School (assuming the secondary grade level configuration does not change); and(3) Allows room for additional growth in Davis schools from new developments such as West Village, Cannery Park, Verona, and Grande that will add hundreds of students to the School District within 3-5 years.Therefore, it appears that the School Board may not propose to move 680 ninth graders to DHS. The current grade level configuration is beneficial to all Davis residents and should not be changed.Please see our website, http://davisfriendsofneighborhood.schools.officelive.com/ for national research on grade level configuration, school board documents, news, and an endorsement list of over 50 people who support the current configuration.

  9. Anonymous

    David M. Greenwald said… Weird is a strange word to use here. First of all, though rare in California, it is not unprecendented.Second, aside from convention, what is …weird… about it? To some extent it’s weird to put 14 year olds in a school with 18 year olds.Weird is always appropriate to use on this blog. David, To what extent is it weird to put 14 year olds in school with 18 year olds? I’d really like to hear the explanation for that statement.

  10. wdf

    The only persistent argument I’ve heard for changing grade level configuration to 9-12 HS in Davis is that …everyone else is doing it… and that somehow Davis is weird for not going along.If student performance (mostly as measured by standardized testing) were notably poor at the secondary level, there would be a stronger case for making this change. As it is, secondary performance scores in Davis are some of the highest in the area.Searches online readily produce links to articles that indicate that 9th grade is truly a …make or break… year for students. That ninth grade is probably the most pivotal year in determining whether a student graduates from HS or not, for instance. See here for instance. Most of the problems with ninth grade failure and suggestions for mitigation seem to be within the context of a 9-12 HS configuration.Maybe I’m missing something, but Davis does not seem to have notable problems with 9th grade students in their current configuration in JH school.Can someone here make and support the case that student success is better in a 9-12 HS configuration? To me that, more than anything else, should be the reason to consider any reconfiguration. Proposing reconfiguration now seems to be an exercise in fixing something that isn’t broken.Thanks in advance for any explanation as to why a 9-12 configuration is a sounder model, academically, than what Davis currently has.

  11. Anonymous

    As a parent, I like the idea of a 9-12 High School. It is to the benefit of many kids (especially ones that are hopefully college-bound, but academically borderline) to get adjusted to High School in 9th grade, rather than in 10th grade when their grades will matter a lot more for colleges. 9th grade officially counts as High School. I can relate to the person who felt that going to 9th grade at a Jr. High was …weird….When my neighbor started 9th grade a few years ago he very proudly and excitedly told everyone on the block …I’m in High School now…. But he wasn’t, physically, he was really in Junior High for another year.

  12. an eastsider

    I remember being at a BOE meeting last spring when the budget issue was in crisis, and someone mentioned that state education codes require a longer school day– in minutes– for 9-12 than for 7-8,so therefore by running 7-9 campuses we are actually running a longer school day for the 7th and 8th graders than is required by law. It does not seem like a bad thing academically, but it costs the district more money. The other issue is that not having the 9th graders on the HS campus means that the master schedule needs to be structured in a way that allows the 9th graders access to HS classes that are not offered at the JHs. I think this usually means having sections available during first period. Again, it is not the most efficient use of resources, and if the 9th graders moved to the HS a consolidation of sections might save money.All the said, I do not personally support the move. I am not sure how I feel about a 9-12 campus, I would have to learn more about that, but I am concerned that moving the 9th graders would trigger a domino effect and then the 6th graders would move to the JHs in order to maintain three JHs. This in turn would obligate the closing of another elementary school.I know a lot of districts do it, but I really do not want to see 6th graders at the JHs. A lot of people are concerned about the potential closure of Emerson as a driving force behind this query, but another way to look at this is moving the sixth graders up is the motivating factor.As with so many issues, because we are a K-12 district, we need to look at this as a K-12 issue and ultimately a K-12 decision.

  13. Anonymous

    I think 9th grade is when students need to start getting used to the high school system. Spending another year with younger kids is not helping them get to the next level. I feel the 4 year high school model is a parallel to the 4 year college model. Basically, I agree with this post:As a parent, I like the idea of a 9-12 High School. It is to the benefit of many kids (especially ones that are hopefully college-bound, but academically borderline) to get adjusted to High School in 9th grade, rather than in 10th grade when their grades will matter a lot more for colleges.

  14. wdf

    7-8,so therefore by running 7-9 campuses we are actually running a longer school day for the 7th and 8th graders than is required by law. It does not seem like a bad thing academically, but it costs the district more money.If I remember correctly, Measure Q includes funds to run a longer day for 7th and 8th graders.The district can’t exactly cut the school day right away without violating the terms of Measure Q.

  15. Chuck

    …As a parent, I like the idea of a 9-12 High School. It is to the benefit of many kids (especially ones that are hopefully college-bound, but academically borderline) to get adjusted to High School in 9th grade, rather than in 10th grade when their grades will matter a lot more for colleges….Sounds good on paper, but it didn’t quite work out that way for my son. As a 9th grader in a 9-12 HS, he quickly found the crowd of older disaffected students — truants, drug users, etc — and lost most of his 9th grade year. In a 7-9 JH, I am fairly certain that he could have kept his 9th grade year intact, academically. Maybe he would have always fallen in with that crowd, but I would be for anything that keeps the most students productive for as long as possible.From my perspective, a 9-12 HS offers certain fewer options for at risk students than does Davis’ current system.

  16. Anonymous

    David M. Greenwald said… …David, To what extent is it weird to put 14 year olds in school with 18 year olds?…To the same extent it’s weird to put them with 12 year olds.1/21/09 4:34 AM Mr. Greenwald, That was an inappropriate and flippant answer. One more time, can you expand on your original statement? Thank You.

  17. David M. Greenwald

    My original point was the it was no more weird to have 9th graders in junior high than to have them at a high school. It’s kind of a tweener age and to some extent the location is arbitrary and a matter of convention.

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