But­ler: Ju­nior high school will ben­e­fit dis­trict

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - FRONT PAGE - By KENT JACK­SON Staff Writer

Mov­ing stu­dents in sev­enth and eighth grade into sep­a­rate ju­nior high schools might have more ad­van­tages than dis­ad­van­tages for the Ha­zle­ton Area School Dis­trict, Su­per­in­ten­dent Craig But­ler said Thurs­day.

But­ler serves on a 14-mem­ber com­mit­tee that since Novem­ber has been study­ing whether to open ju­nior high schools or to keep sev­enth- and eighth-graders in the el­e­men­tary-mid­dle schools that they now at­tend.

Af­ter meet­ing in pri­vate on Jan. 18, the com­mit­tee might be ready to make rec­om­men­da­tions to the school board, which will de­cide for or against ju­nior high schools.

But­ler ex­pects the board will hold a hear­ing to gather pub­lic opin­ion be­fore de­cid­ing.

The com­mit­tee is eval­u­at­ing three op­tions for next year.

One op­tion would move all sev­enth- and eighth-graders from Ha­zle­ton and West Ha­zle­ton into the Ha­zle­ton El­e­men­tary-Mid­dle School build­ing, known as The Cas­tle. Stu­dents in grades three through six who at­tend The Cas­tle would trans­fer to other el­e­men­tary schools. Stu­dents in Free­land, Val­ley, Drums and McA­doo would re­main in those com­mu­ni­ties’ schools through eighth grade.

In the se­cond op­tion, one build­ing would be des­ig­nated for sev­enth-graders from through­out the dis­trict and another build­ing would house all stu­dents in eighth grade. But­ler said the com­mit­tee hasn’t de­cided which build­ings to use for those stu­dents, but the com­mit­tee is con­sid­er­ing us­ing two of the fol­low­ing three build­ings: Maple Manor, West Ha­zle­ton and Ha­zle­ton el­e­men­tary-mid­dle schools. If one of those build­ings be­comes the sev­enth-grade school, for ex­am­ple, stu­dents from all other grades who at­tend there would trans­fer to other schools.

The third op­tion, But­ler said, is to keep stu­dents where they are.

“We are dig­ging deep, un­cov­er­ing ev­ery stone to price out and cal­cu­late nu­ances with those … op­tions,” But­ler said.

One of the draw­backs of cre­at­ing ju­nior high schools, But­ler said, is that a move would “play havoc with the com­mu­nity-school feel.”

Luzerne County Man­ager David Pedri, a com­mit­tee mem­ber, said he is pay­ing at­ten­tion to the op­por­tu­ni­ties that stu­dents would have to join stu­dent coun­cil, theater, cho­rus, sports and other ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties if el­e­men­tary-mid­dle schools merge into ju­nior highs for sev­enth- and eighth-graders.

“The more schools, the more op­por­tu­ni­ties,” said Pedri, who grad­u­ated from the for­mer Bishop Hafey High School in Ha­zle­ton. “The ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties were ex­tremely help­ful to me in form­ing my ed­u­ca­tion and choos­ing my ca­reer path.”

Pedri said the com­mit­tee has been told that cre­at­ing ju­nior high schools won’t nec­es­sar­ily save money for Ha­zle­ton Area, which like most school dis­tricts in Penn­syl­va­nia is reel­ing fi­nan­cially. Rather than just weigh­ing fi­nances, he thinks the com­mit­tee should de­cide what is best for stu­dents ed­u­ca­tion­ally.

Dr. Robert Childs, a com- mit­tee mem­ber and for­mer board mem­ber, said the com­mit­tee is bal­anc­ing the loss of com­mu­nity against the aca­demic pos­si­bil­i­ties of switch­ing to ju­nior highs.

“The big thing out there is so­cial — tak­ing away the com­mu­nity schools. Is any­thing you have to of­fer aca­dem­i­cally worth the suf­fer­ing about the com­mu­nity school?” Childs said.

He thinks ju­nior high schools might pro­vide sup­port ser­vices such as spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion and Eng­lish as a se­cond lan­guage more ef­fec­tively.

But­ler said ju­nior high schools also could of­fer up­per-level classes that mid­dle schools wouldn’t have enough stu­dents to fill.

Ju­nior high teach­ers could plan and teach units to­gether be­cause they have stu­dents in the same grade, But­ler said.

Ju­nior high schools would al­low the dis­trict to make bet­ter use of teach­ers and staff work­ers and re­duce staff through at­tri­tion, But­ler added.

“I think the ad­van­tages will out­weigh the dis­ad­van­tages,” But­ler said.

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