Smaller schools welcomed

Minister of Education Alden McLaughlin said there were no objections voiced during a recent meeting with students’ parents to discuss a proposal to break George Hicks High School into four smaller schools on the same campus.

‘There was not one dissenting voice,’ Mr. McLaughlin said recently in the Legislative Assembly.

The school-within-a-school model, also called smaller learning communities or SLCs, attempt to limit school and class sizes in order to create more personalised learning environments.

Mr. McLaughlin said the concept is so simple that people should wonder why it was not thought of earlier.

In the case of George Hicks, Mr. McLaughlin said the school would be broken into four separate schools of approximately 230 students each.

‘The smaller schools are, the better children perform. The smaller classes are, the better children perform,’ he said.

Mr. McLaughlin said the four smaller schools on the George Hicks campus would be semi-independent from one other and physically separated by fences. A Campus Director would oversee the facility.

Each school would have its own administration with its own learning leader and deputy learning leader, and its own teachers, Mr. McLaughlin said.

Certain facilities, such as the sports field and some labs, would be shared by the four schools; however, most facilities would not be shared.

Anecdotal evidence from the United States showed significantly better language and mathematics scores with SLC high school students in the Bronx, New York and Cleveland, Ohio, and the latter also showed a decline in violence, alcohol and drug incidents, as well as suspensions beginning the second year after SLC implementation.

SLCs have also shown to increase attendance and graduation rates, and to allow for greater student activities because of less competition for spots on athletic teams, clubs and student government.

Another by-product of splitting up George Hicks would be a healthy competition in sports and academics between the four schools, Mr. McLaughlin said.

The recent meeting held at the Family Life Centre to discuss the proposal attracted an estimated 475 parents, which Mr. McLaughlin said he found both surprising and a bit intimidating.

‘But I was overwhelmed by the sense of commitment and support I received from the parents,’ he said.

Though there is plenty of documented evidence showing the benefits of SLCs, they do have some drawbacks, including the necessity of more teachers.

In addition, a system is needed to determine which students would go to which of the four schools, something Mr. McLaughlin said has not yet been worked out.

Existing classes would also have to be split up, something that brought hot debate to a SLC proposal in the US state Washington last week.

Some teachers in that US jurisdiction also have resisted the change.

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