Sunday, August 26, 2001

Smaller schools showing successes around the country

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati schools aren't alone in carving small schools from large schools. The idea is growing as America's public schools search for new ways to curb high dropout rates, low test scores and violence.

        In the Tristate, West Clermont Local District is restructuring its two high schools over the next two years. Small student groups are being designed there even though West Clermont is high-achieving and has a dropout rate of 15 percent compared to Cincinnati's 49 percent.

        “Within the past five to six years, research is emerging that (smaller schools) are not only safer schools and more effective but more cost effective,” says Joe Nathan, senior fellow and director for the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota. Mr. Nathan is helping Cincinnati and West Clermont overhaul their schools.

        Schools in Chicago, Baltimore, Denver, Portland, Ore., and Sarasota, Fla., also are creating schools with small populations or subdividing large schools.

        Chicago has created 130 new small, public elementary and high schools since the mid-1990s, according to Dr. Michael Klonsky and Susan Klonsky of the Small Schools Workshop based in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

        Inside the former Cregier High School building — which had been closed by Chicago Public Schools for consistent failure — three smaller schools were formed. One was Best Practice High School, which opened in 1996 and enrolls about 430 students.

        For the school's first graduating class in 2000, the dropout rate was 8 percent, retired lead teacher Kathy Daniels says. About 80 percent of the class went on to college. Students who went to other schools but still completed high school were not counted as dropouts.

        “Small schools themselves allow teachers to become better leaders,” says Ms. Daniels, who worked in a 2,000-student school before Best Practice. “In a big school, you have 100-some teachers. You can't get together and plan anything. We have 20.”


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