I enjoy hearing teachers say that they teach at a “small school.” What is a small school to you? Most often I find they are categorizing themselves as “small” with 400 students in their high school. No, I teach at a small school. When I tell them that my high school has 100 kids they cannot believe it. Then they relinquish the title of “small school.” That is a fun statistic to share when getting to know new colleagues. However, there are some serious issues we are facing this year as a small school.
In 2005 when I started at the high school I currently teach at, the enrollment FTE (Full Time Equivalency) was 125. Today, the FTE count is 80. What has caused this massive decline in enrollment? There are several factors: natural ebb and flow of children living and born in the school district, the ability for students to transfer in and out of their home district, on-line school, home school, running start, and a new skill center. These are just the reasons that I am aware of.
What impact does that have? In 2005 we had three full time Career and Technical Education (CTE) aka vocational teachers. Today we only have two: Family and Consumer Science and Agriculture. The Business program was cut. We offered a full slate of Humanities. That program was cut. We had three administrators: one for each building. Today one person is the high school principal, middle school principal, and athletic director. It has been several years since we have had to RIFF a teacher or classified staff. That has been a blessing.
What other impacts are there? Excellent student to teacher ratios’. Every kid gets to play if they turn out for a sport. Very few altercations between students. If a student has the initiative for a leadership role, there is one for them.
I adore teaching at a small rural school. I also appreciate it from a student perspective. When I was in the 8th grade I attended a two-room school house in Nevada. There were 10 of us in grades 6-8 with one teacher and one paraprofessional. This environment lent itself to high quality education that rivaled my toughest AP classes in high school. Can you imagine the amount of preparation it took to develop lessons for three grade levels? Every single day. I can attest that the teacher did individualize instruction. I remember being upset because I was studying lower level math than two of my friends.
Why did I take you down my memory lane? I am facing similar scenarios. I do not have to teach three different topics in one setting, however, I do have a class with three students. How do you have a group discussion, or work on group dynamics when you only have ½ a group? Teaching strategies must change to accommodate the size of the class. There will be some struggles this year, and there will be some great accomplishments.
As a staff we are very aware of the alternative educational opportunities for our students. We have started thinking about what we can do next year to keep all of our students on campus and not deny students of other wonderful experiences.
My questions are: What can I do to put my program on the forefront of innovation? What does our building need to retain our students? Why are 10 upper classman (12.5%) choosing the skill center over classes offered at the high school? What other districts are seeing an enrollment decline and how are they adjusting? How can I highlight the benefits so the students see that they are receiving a high quality education even if it looks a little different than last year?