When Hoosiers my age recall the school consolidation struggle of the mid-20th century, we could say, “Been there, done that!” Until recently, I considered that battle finished. Maybe the interest in school consolidation is reviving.
Does school consolidation make sense now? Perhaps, but Hoosier legislators may have more interest in saving cents than making sense! Larger schools and larger school corporations do have advantages. They are more cost-effective. They can also offer students more courses and extracurricular opportunities. These advantages merit thoughtful consideration. Yet, smaller schools have advantages, too.
When Eastern Superintendent Tracy Caddell speaks of the positive influence of small rural schools, I know he’s right. I taught in a rural school for 14 years, and I was also the principal of five small schools, most of them in rural locations. Despite the advantages of large urban and suburban schools, I preferred being a country schoolmaster.
Although small schools can’t do everything for students that large ones can, they do some things better. The positive influence of small schools includes accessibility and community spirit. When students and parents know their teachers and administrators personally, acquaintances become friends. Friends work together, benefiting both the school and the community.
Superior behavior management is one of a small school’s best features. Successful teaching and learning only happen when students are cooperative, attentive and motivated. The question is how to get them that way. There will never be a perfect answer, but kids tend to behave better in smaller schools, because the teachers know them and their parents. When I worked in a school of 200, I knew almost everybody. When I worked in a school of 2,000, I knew almost nobody.
Any teacher can influence 200 better than 2,000. Certain time-tested methods encourage desirable behaviors and discourage undesirable ones. These methods work in all schools, but they work better in small ones. Educator visibility is one such method. Students seldom misbehave when a teacher is present. That’s why principals encourage teachers to step into the hallway when students change classrooms. Principals and other administrators should also do that.