Butler: Junior high school will benefit district
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.