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Advantages of a Small School

Updated on September 28, 2014

Pie Priorities

This pie is sliced fairly equally and signifies a district that places equal significance on their priorities.  This would be rare.
This pie is sliced fairly equally and signifies a district that places equal significance on their priorities. This would be rare.

People Pie

This pie represents a district that places more significance on people. Notice the larger slices are students, parents, community, and staff.
This pie represents a district that places more significance on people. Notice the larger slices are students, parents, community, and staff.

Purpose Pie

This pie represents a district that places more emphasis on scores than people. Notice the larger slices are academics, test scores, and graduation rate.
This pie represents a district that places more emphasis on scores than people. Notice the larger slices are academics, test scores, and graduation rate.

Does School Size Matter?

I have worked in both small and large schools. There is a major difference. I could sit with a group of educators I've never met before and in 15 minutes tell you what size school they work in. There is a different attitude and thought process for each of the schools. It tends to be much like the different vocabulary in socioeconomics. Each level of socioeconomic has its own language and speech pattern. None is right and none is wrong. They are just different. They use language and vernacular that works in their 'circles.'

Schools of different sizes have different priorities. Think of it as a pie. They all have one pie and must feed the staff, parents, students, academics, testing scores, attendance, and graduation rate. Just in case you didn't know test scores, attendance, and graduation rate affect the school districts rating from the state education agency. Now the district can choose to cut most of the pie anyway it wants. We are not referring to money in this example. Just placing priorities on certain things.

Why are some districts considered better than others? It's because they slice a bigger piece of the pie in an area you believe to be important. Every district cuts its pie according to its priorities. This is why you can ask the parent's of two different students their opinion of the school district and receive radically different answers. One parent believes a certain group needs a bigger part of the pie and lets everyone know how unhappy they are. The other is very happy with the way the pie is sliced--his way. There is no right or wrong way to slice the pie.

See the figures of the pie slices.

Education is Essential

The pies are not meant to indicate that one school doesn't teach. They do teach and students are successful. Yes, some schools are more focused on rigorous instruction and completing courses that require higher level thinking skills. Others are more laid back and offer the basic education. Some schools require college prep classes for all students, while others prefer to offer them only to honor students.

Wouldn't every parent want the school that emphasizes college prep classes? Not necessarily. It depends on their child's skills and the goals for that child. If the parents are professionals who have raised their children from the crib to believe they are going to college, then they need to be in a school that would place emphasis on academics and test scores.

Don't Be Surprised at Graduation

By the time your child is a sophomore in high school, you should have a pretty good idea of the college he or she wants to attend. Even if the choice has been narrowed down to two or three, that gives you an idea. Check with the colleges to see what high school courses are required for admission. Be sure the school your child attends can meet those requirements.

Small Schools' Spotlights

Small schools tend to focus on people. The community is very important because they support the school in every way. The hometown bank supports all the clubs and the newspaper covers every event the school has. The local restaurants are hired to cater these events so they support the school. The local grocery stores want to keep everyone coming in for groceries, so they support the school.

In small schools, parents tend to be either the biggest alias or worst antagonist. As one administrator said, "Ninety-nine percent of our parents are wonderful, but that other 1% sure makes our job hard." There are few heroes in small towns. When Johnny becomes quarter-back and the local hero, it can be a head rush. Some parents forget that Johnny is just a student who was chosen to be quarter-back for the team. In another district, he might not even make the team. But some parents like riding the hero-wave. This type of parent tends to force their will on the district either through implied pressure or threats of pulling Johnny off the team.

Few staff members actually live in the district, so the school makes them a priority. The school couldn't run without the staff. Most small school districts can't pay well and attempt to make up for it in other ways. The law prohibits expensive gifts, but there are other ways to show appreciation. Public recognition for a project done will is very valuable to some people.

Students in small schools are more like families. They've been to school with each other every year since Kindergarten. They know all about each other. They socialize in and out of school. High school usually, presents lots of drama between girls who like the same guys and couples who can no longer tolerate each other. The age-old advice of 'ignore them' doesn't work in a small school. Every time you turn around there they are. They're in every class, at lunch, at the lockers, and then the after school events.

School Size

What size school do you think is best for your child?

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Your School

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Delicate Climate of Small Schools

Every school has a climate. It isn't talked about. It's felt when you watch each other. The last small district I worked in had a wonderful climate among students. They had all know each other since the age of 5. Everyone accepted each other--warts and all. There was no racial tension. We had students from different cultures and races dating, best friends and any other type relationship you can think of. That doesn't mean we had no problems. It's just that the problems weren't racially motivated.

There was no racial tension--until...we hired a new coach. He was big, black, angry, and intent on letting every white person know it. He began to coach his black players about their place in the district. One player made an obscene gesture at a white female coach. When she confronted him about it, the black coach turned to the player and said,"Don't listen to her. She just doesn't like black boys." Comments like this were every day and all day. He coaxed the boys to say inappropriate remarks about the white girls.

The athletic director was watching everything. The coach was causing a lot of problems in the district, but nothing that would take his job. Then someone at the administration office came up with a brilliant plan. Go over the coaches application with a fine tooth comb. And they found it. He claimed he had worked for another district for one year, but actually it was only two months. Since false statements on an application are reasons for dismissal, they called him to the main office. He was given, what I call, 'the-you-don't-work-here-anymore-would-you-like-to-resign-speech.' In other words--we are going to fire you if you don't quit first. He resigned and of course, the black student body went ballistic. We were left with threats, violence, weapons, and rioting. More than once we received a call stating that there would be a shooting at the bus in the afternoon.

It took years to undo what that coach had done in two months. Eventually, we did get back to normal, but we never forgot how fragile climate on a small campus can be.

Smallest School in the World

This school in the state of Washington is reported to be the smallest school in the world.
This school in the state of Washington is reported to be the smallest school in the world. | Source

Bring it Together

Every school has a personality or climate. There is a difference in the small school and large school climates. Both have its advantages and disadvantages. Large schools tend to be focused on academics. Small schools tend to make individual students a priority. There is so much more to say on this subject, that another article will be required. Look for it in the next few days. It will be more personal and contain true stories of how small schools benefit some students.


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