Smaller Schools Mean Bigger Success
Imagine. You are 14 years old and walk into high school for the first time. Suddenly, 1,400 students surround you. How will you succeed in school, make friends, find your way, fit in?
While some students become scholars, leaders and athletes, many students simply get lost. They may be shy, lower achieving, uncertain about their interests or just a student in the middle. They feel insecure and anonymous unless someone steps in.
That’s why we are expanding our Small Learning Communities at Coral Shores High School and starting a Ninth Grade Center at Key West High School this year. We’re exploring our options and planning to start similar centers next year at Marathon High School. It’s important for our staff, faculty and parents to understand what we are trying to create and to support the process.
Large high schools became the norm in Florida for economic reasons. It’s less expensive to build large schools because of all the amenities that go with it, like auditoriums and ball fields. Just because we have large buildings doesn’t mean we can’t have small schools. By creating “schools within schools,” our high schools become more personal and cater to individual interests and needs. It’s a place where every teacher knows the name of every student. It’s a place where every student knows each other and they support each other because of a common interest. It’s a place where parents are welcome and communities are supportive. Our new high school buildings were all designed with Small Learning Communities in mind.
For example, 140 of the 400 9th graders at Key West High School this year will enter a Ninth Grade Academy. They will stick together through all classes in one general area of the school. Teachers build relationships, know their parents names and talk to each other about challenges and progress. Last year, we did the same thing at Coral Shores High School and it was deemed a success so the program is expanding to the entire ninth grade class of 240 students.
“Ninth grade is where they fall hopelessly behind,” said Dr. Larry Rosen, our consultant from the EdDesigns Group. “Dividing them into smaller groups and assigning them to a consistent set of teachers allows us to develop relationships and personalize their education.”
Small Learning Communities have nothing to do with Alternative Education Academies or block scheduling. They do not place students into categories based on achievement. They simply make high schools smaller and more manageable for individual students. The goal is to move all children up.
Small Learning Communities give each student a chance to be known. They don’t fall through the cracks because someone will notice if they’re slipping. The results are higher student achievement, better attendance, fewer discipline problems and career direction while still offering the full array of extra curricular activities.
Recent legislation requires 9th graders to select a major or area of interest starting next year. Small Learning Communities gives us a framework for eventually dividing students into areas of interest. This will make learning more relevant and give students motivation for coming to school. These “academies” will be aligned with careers and students may change their mind during their high school careers. For example, in the future students may choose an area of interest within a “Science Academy” or “Humanities Academy”.
Research shows that when large schools are made to feel smaller, student achievement improves. Teachers have the flexibility and planning time to align their own curriculum with state standards. They enjoy the flexibility and collaboration with colleagues and the opportunity to know their students well.
Parents see their children wanting to go to school. There’s a sense of security because the children have supportive relationships at school and there’s a sense of direction, fulfillment and belonging. And parents play a big role in it all.
The community gets fewer dropouts to take care of more graduates prepared for the world of work or post-secondary education. Everyone enjoys less crime and more responsible citizens in our communities.
We invite you to get involved and support our Small Learning Communities. We’ll need the full support of staff, faculty, parents and the business community to make them work. In fact, it’s essential to our success. Please be patient as we work out the details and expand the program in future years. High school reform takes patience and perseverance, but we have the research to know this works if we stick with it.
Monroe County School District is a publicly funded organization
No. of Schools: 12
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