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The Gates Foundation is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to create smaller more manageable high schools and middle schools. Sociological studies report that discipline problems, truancy, and loss of community all disproportionally increase as schools expand beyond about 500 students for middle school and 1200 students for high school. Student opportunities - such as the percentage of students who can play a varsity sport or assume leadership positions in clubs and activities - decrease as schools become larger. Yet, our county seems determined to grow existing schools well beyond these optimum numbers while claiming to build a world class school system. Is bigger better?

I completely agree with Mr. Freeman's comments above. A smaller school is beneficiary to both the students and the teachers. But, with that said, I do still think my children are getting a "world class education" due to the dedication and committment of the staff at both Murray Elementary and Henley. I am overjoyed to see that finally Glenaire is not on the redistricting list. While redistricting is not pleasant for anyone, the Neighborhoods mentioned that are either in Charlottesville or so close to Charlottesville, they should have been moved when the last redistricting process went on. I would hope that the Board considers what is best for the School System as a whole and not react to parents uproar.

Allen & Patty - Thanks for the feedback. Allen asked... Are bigger schools better? I would answer that by saying... the research highlighted by our Assistant Superintendent Bruce Benson indicates that in about half the studies there is a positive correlation between smaller schools and student achievement. I interpret that to mean that the other 50% of the studies didn't find such a correlation. He presented this data to our Long Range Planning Committee on 9/11/06. Our staff are now recommending we expand Crozet Elementary to 608 students. Here is a quote from the LRPC minutes: "Mr. Benson presented research by Kathleen Cotton who reviewed 103 documents which identified a relationship between school size and some aspect(s) of schooling. She used 49 primary research documents. From the research, Mr. Benson described small schools for elementary as having between 300-400 students and small secondary schools as having between 400-800 students. He noted that in about one-half of the studies there was a correlation between small school size and student achievement. No such correlation was found in large school studies. It is also important to note that research suggests student attitudes toward school in general and toward particular subjects are more positive in small schools, student attendance is better in smaller schools than larger schools; and students have a greater sense of belonging in smaller schools than larger schools." Crozet's current rated capacity makes it a small school by these definitions. However, staff have told the School Board that they can support elementary schools that are up to 650 students (Albemarle's other maximums are middle schools at 900 and high schools at 1,850). I would suggest that makes some of our schools not large or small, but in the mid-range. By comparison, Fluvanna's Central Elementary has 1,300 students. I am comfortable at the mid-range. Might our schools be better if they were smaller? Half the research seems to indicate they would. Is that practical or cost effective in a County as large as Albemarle, maybe not. That is where you get into the cost-benefit analysis. Since we have said a 650 seat elementary schools is o.k. at Cale, it has to be o.k. in the Crozet community too. I am guessing you would argue that it is not o.k. in either place, but since our staff have looked at the research and recommended those sizes, this school board member has supported the recommendations.

Brian Wheeler

Brian, I appreciate that you have identified the research used about school size.
Kathleen Cotton's paper,"School Size, School Climate, and Student Performance" is very worth looking up. It very strongly makes the case for smaller schools. Anyone with limited time might want to scroll to the "Summary and Conclusions" section where she lists 18 reasons why we need smaller schools. I believe I found the section on page six of this report which Mr. Benson cited to the LRPC. I will quote, omitting citations, "About half the student achievement research finds no difference between the achievement levels of students in large and small schools, including small alternative schools. The other half finds student achievement in small schools to be superior to that in large schools. NONE of the research finds large schools superior to small schools in their achievement effects."(emphasis mine)
And also from the same page:"Finally, whereas the research finds that small schools produce equal or superior achievement for students in general, the effects of small schools on the achievement of ethnic minority students and students of low socioeconomic status are the most positive of all." This paper is widely cited as a justification for smaller schools so it seems a little odd to have it used in the ACPS for the opposite purpose. I hope other people will read this paper since it is the research supporting very important decisions in our schools.

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