First Small School Opened

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As I wrote a while ago, our school district is implementing the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Small School Initiative. One of our local high schools implemented the first small school this past September. Called the Freshman Academy, it is a small school for all of the incoming 9th grade students. How this differs from the way freshman started high school in the past, is still a bit unclear. In the past, incoming freshmen were grouped into “houses”, based on ability and past academic history. The idea was that these smaller houses, (schools?) provided for the varied needs of students across the spectrum of academic and behavioral achievement. Whereas in the past 9th grade students were grouped into several different houses, now they are all part of the much larger Small School called Freshman Academy. It gets a bit confusing, but I do hear some positive comments from parents of this year’s freshman class.

I think the main reason the first Small School has been put in place without controversy is that all freshman still take whatever level of class they are ready for when entering high school. This had been a huge concern for parents of children who were high academic achievers. Most freshmen may still take Algebra 1 with other freshman. But if a 9th grade student is ready for Geometry or Algebra 2 when entering high school, they would take that class just as before, in a classroom with students from 9th, 10th or 11th grade. This is a good sign that a major concern parents had about the Small School Initiative is being addressed and, if they are ready, students are still being allowed to take classes that may be considered advanced for their grade level.

I have been told that the high schools had to implement at least one small school this year to keep on schedule with the Gates Foundation. Perhaps the implementation of a Freshman Academy was seen as being the safest, least controversial route to go. It will be interesting to see what is done in the fall of 2007, when at least one or two more small schools are due to be started. Hopefully they new schools will be well thought out, with consideration not just for the students currently struggling to do well in high school, but also with a plan to also accommodate the students who excel.

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Will Sig

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