Middle school or junior high school? You might think those are two names for the same thing, but the Anchorage Education Association (AEA) says there's a big difference, and they want the public to know there's been a change.

The change has nothing to do with grade levels but more with a style of teaching and scheduling called "the middle school model". The Anchorage School District used the model for nearly 20 years, but in the last few years, they've been inching towards what the union calls a "Jr. High model".

In the middle school model, students were grouped into teams, which meant the same students had the same teachers for all of their core subjects. The team approach allowed teachers to easily coordinate their lesson plans, and, if a student was struggling, teachers could develop a plan to support them. Because of the team approach, teachers got an extra planning period to meet together. But now that planning period is gone at most Anchorage middle schools and teachers are teaching more classes without extra pay.

The change has prompted the AEA to start an online petition demanding the middle school model comes back.

"We had over 1,500 signatures in two and a half days, and I'm not surprised at all," said AEA President Tom Klaameyer.

He said the middle school model is a better fit for teachers and for students.

"It's a really good model, which makes it more expensive. But we think our kids are worth it," said Klaameyer.

But Kersten Johnson-Struempler, director of secondary education for the district, said the switch to another model isn't just about saving money.

"That middle school model, while it felt really good to people because teachers really knew their group of kids, their academic data didn't show they were making the improvements that they needed," said Johnson-Struempler.

Johnson-Struempler said the middle school model was more expensive because it required more teachers to make it work. But she said academics were another big consideration for the switch. She said grades were flat under the middle school model and kids who needed remedial classes or accelerated ones had a hard time getting them.

"Academics really does drive the change because we are placing kids more appropriately now in the classes that they need," she said.

Johnson-Struempler said not every Anchorage middle school has the same schedule, some have elected to keep teams in place.

"Each school came to their own conclusion about what was best for their kids and their community," she said.

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