All of the high schools -- a mix of public and public-charter -- we visited during the seminar were small by design. Meaning the district or the charter board purposely planned out the administrative, instructional and in two cases, physical design of the school to be small.
Look at Kearney High Educational Complex-- formerly a composite high school with approximately 2,000 students. It was closed and reorganized into four 'small' schools of 400 or so students. It includes the Construction Tech Academy (this site was loading very slowly...), the School of Digital Media and Design, the School of International Business and the School of Science, Connections and Technology. All schools have project-based (or, "experiential" as we might call it in Ontario) learning, advisories for students and other small-school concepts.
Similarly, at High Tech High, the first school and campus were purposely designed to have no more than 400-500 students, including the project-based learning and administrative and teacher organization to bring small-school concepts into play. These were replicated on the same campus as the first school with the High Tech High International and High Tech High Media Arts schools.
All of these schools are different from many of our small schools in Ontario, which are 'small by nature.' Our schools are small by nature mainly due to two factors:
- These are schools that, by geographic, financial or other circumstance, were built small. These are the campuses that physically were never meant to accommodate more than 400-600 students from the moment the foundation was poured and the walls started to rise. Other than this physical characteristic, there's nothing else that inherently exists in these schools from the small-school model.
- The other 'small by nature' school is the one that regardless of what physical size it was built to accommodate, has a small population due to the demographic changes of the past decade or so. Population shifts (from established to newer neighbourhoods, or through urban renewal) and our declining birth and fertility rates have created these 'small' schools.
We need to remain cognizant of that difference -- small by design v. small by nature. Each produces different schools and very different environments.