ACS photo thumbnailBy John Bernhardt

`There’s an unexpected phenomenon involving public schools sweeping across the land. Schools that once centralized to become “bigger and better” are pausing to rethink those decisions. In many cases, large centralized urban and suburban schools are seeking ways to decentralize by forming “schools within schools,” or smaller more personalized learning units.

The push for centralization accelerated after Russia launched Sputnik in 1957. In the panic to make up ground lost to the Russians in mathematics and science, the finger of blame was pointed at America’s public schools. Small schools in particular were targeted for blame as studies suggested optimal high school sizes of 1,000 students. Consolidation was the rage. Since 1940, almost 70% of all American schools have closed as part of the consolidation craze.

Sixty years later, educators and community leaders are questioning the wisdom that saw so many small schools close. A recent report titled, Dollars and Sense: The Cost Effectiveness of Good Small Schools uses research to argue that small schools still make sense on both an academic and economic level. History has taught us that large urban and rural consolidated schools face unique issues. Solutions to those issues are expensive and many times dwarf the cost savings realized during consolidation.

In many cases high transportation costs can be prohibitive in these districts. The impersonal profile of factory-like school settings creates larger percentages of disaffected and frustrated students and higher dropout rates requiring expensive specialized programming to meet their needs. In 1999, the United States Department of Education reported alarming statistics to validate the effects of a larger, less personal school experience. According to the Department of Education, schools with 1,000 or more students realized 270 percent more acts of vandalism and 394 percent more physical fights than schools with fewer than 300 students.

“Hidden costs:” special programs, added security measures, layers of administration and/or supervision and unique intervention programs dwarfed the promise of financial savings. And, students attending smaller school often outperformed those from larger districts. The average graduation rate at smaller schools outpaces that of large schools by 73-60 percent.

Dollars and Sense II, a follow-up report to the original study, highlights small school success stories. Those stories share a common theme. Many small rural schools serve as the center of their communities and benefit the social structure and health of those communities. In the best examples, small schools thrive when they forge partnerships with the greater community, sharing programs, facilities and resources.

At Andes Central School we understand the meaning of a supportive community. The teachers and staff understand the role our school plays in our community and are appreciative of the tremendous support we receive. Although more can always be accomplished, much work is underway trying to create a school that makes the Andes community proud. ~