Several Utah high schools moving to 4-year format

Published: Friday, May 25 2012 7:00 p.m. MDT

Granite District spokesman Ben Horsley said the deadline for requesting a reconfiguration for the 2013-14 school year is June 30. In addition to Granger, Cottonwood High and Kearns High have looked at reconfiguring, but it is unclear if they will pursue a change for next year.

Pettersson said Canyons School District looked at national research and data that suggest the transition between ninth and 10th grades is a critical time when high school dropouts occur. She also said approximately 90 percent of similarly sized school districts use a four-year high school system.

"We looked at these high-performing states that were doing better than us and said, 'What are we doing different?'" she said.

In lieu of a district-wide change, Granite School District allows individual communities flexibility to petition for reconfigurations after engaging in public discussion and surveys. Haslam said mailers were distributed, in English and Spanish, informing residents of the possible change and asking them to take part in an online survey.

Of the 385 respondents, 73.5 percent were in favor of moving freshmen to Granger High School, 22 percent were opposed and 4.5 percent said they needed more information.

Haslam said he was encouraged by the support in the community and has tried to respond to the concerns of individuals opposed to the change. Some parents are worried about bullying, abuse or dating issues when 14-year-old freshmen and 18-year-old seniors are in school together.

Haslam said he's sensitive to those concerns but added that in looking at other four-year schools in Utah and around the country, he does not see evidence of increased negative student interaction.

"We'll do everything possible to ensure a safe environment," Haslam said.

Pettersson said similar concerns were raised in the Canyons community prior to the board of education's decision to reconfigure grades in February 2010. But she said the district is focused on providing a positive learning environment and is developing plans to help students coexist.

She said her own experience as an elementary school teacher convinced her that sixth-graders are developmentally more at home in middle school. 

"It was a real challenge for me to keep those kids engaged in an elementary setting," she said.

Pettersson said Canyons' decision to reconfigure was primarily academic and the district has made boundary changes and entered into bonds for new buildings to address the secondary effects of student populations.

Because of the effect that reconfigurations have on a school's student populations, classroom space is often a determining factor of what format a district will use. Granger's reconfiguration is helped by a new building, which was planned before administrators looked at reconfiguration, and Horsley said growth in Granite has stabilized in recent years, allowing more flexibility to make configuration decisions.

The construction of a new Granger High School is a natural time to re-examine the placement of ninth grade students, Haslam said.

"I think we'll be able to house all of our students in the school," he said. "It comes down to academics. We want our students to have every chance to earn their diplomas."

He said the administrations at Valley and West Lake junior high schools are also supportive of the change. He said many junior high students have an attitude that their grades don't matter until ninth grade and by removing freshmen from the schools they will be able to create a new mindset and better focus on the needs of their students.

"We're excited," Haslam said. "We really think we can do great things."

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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