There is a great blog that discusses ending the small schools movement. The author, Aixa B. Rodriguez, makes a great case for dismantling the artificial small high schools or schools within schools she amusingly calls ‘boutique schools’ that are ‘charter-lite.’ These schools had been created in New York City with the goal of creating communities and giving parents ‘choice.’ Make no mistake, I support her, but her blog is a stark reminder that Downstate NY and Upstate NY have different needs and different concerns. The major problem I have is that unscrupulous people (ie., Governor Cuomo and his ilk) could use her arguments against the small schools movement to bolster their arguments that small Upstate school districts need to merge.
In Upstate NY small schools were not created artificially in the last few years, small schools were created over decades as their communities grew and decided that it was necessary to educate their children. Many of these communities still have photos of the one room school house for all grades; some community members actually remember attending those schools. In my local community on any given evening you can drive by the local school building and see cars in the parking lot as people attend sporting events, music events, drama events, or meetings of local civic organizations.
Make no mistake about it, there are some drawbacks with small districts, and they are the same as those mentioned by Ms. Rodiguez; but the superintendents and teachers have found ways to compensate. Unlike the artificial small schools, small school districts make sure that all students have the courses required for a NYS diploma. No, there are not unlimited electives, but the ones that are offered are college or career preparatory. School districts share the services of Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) or implement distance learning. Yes, smaller school districts have fewer teachers per grade level or course. Yes, there are personality conflicts, but it is a life skill to learn to work with and for people with whom you wouldn’t socialize in your personal life. Is it difficult to pay for art, music and sports in these little districts? Yes it is; but many times the community steps up when the state government funding is insufficient.
The greatest difference between the small school movement and the small school district, though, is that small school districts are under the control of a superintendent selected by a locally elected Board of Education. Those BOE members ARE members of the community. They are parents and grandparents. They are alumni of the district. In Upstate NY, small school districts and small communities are synonymous.
By all means, end the right-hearted, but wrong-headed small school movement, but leave our upstate small districts alone.