Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

October 12, 2013

Two high schools are justified

I read with interest two letters from former area residents lamenting the decision to build a new Allegany High School.

Both writers indicated that our community should consolidate Allegany and Fort Hill because of declining enrollment and the idea that one large high school would be cheaper to operate.

Neither writer lives in Allegany County; neither seems aware of the fact that our school population has, in fact, stabilized.

Nor do they seem to understand that operating a large high school in a jurisdiction that is among the poorest in Maryland would cost the community dearly through the higher dropout rates and increased rates of school violence that often occur in large schools with high poverty numbers.

The decision to maintain the two existing high schools was not made lightly. A consultant was engaged and a committee of community members created to look at every possible scenario.

This committee, on which I served, did a great deal of research on ideal school size, the impact of school size on low income populations, and the costs involved in maintaining two smaller schools versus one large school.

The football game between the two schools, referenced by one writer as the driving force behind the decision made, did not play a role in this process.

What did play a role was the well documented impact of large high schools on poor communities.

Large high schools, such as the “super school” of 1,500 suggested by the letter writers, tend to work well in wealthy districts.

They do not work well, however, in areas such as Allegany County, where many of the children live at or near poverty level.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, large high schools serving large pools of low income students have disproportionately lower achievement levels and higher incidences of violence than small schools serving similar populations.

In addition, students in smaller schools — defined as having fewer than 900 students — tend to be more satisfied, more academically productive, more likely to participate in school activities, better behaved, and less likely to drop out than students in large schools.

Students in smaller schools also tend to feel safer, more nurtured, and more connected to caring adults, while teachers in smaller schools feel they have more opportunity to know and support their students.

Finally, while small schools typically have a higher per student cost than large schools, they actually have a lower cost per graduate, because they have lower dropout rates.

The high dropout rate found in large schools, most especially in poor communities, creates a higher societal cost overall. High school dropouts are more likely to commit crimes, abuse drugs and alcohol, and become teenage parents.

The issues surrounding the future of our city high schools were thoroughly examined.

The community was encouraged to contribute; public comments were taken, both verbally and in writing.

The vast majority of those choosing to participate supported maintaining our current school configuration, based largely on information regarding school size as well as experiences some residents have had with large schools in other areas.

The committee ultimately recommended maintaining the two city high schools, a recommendation adopted by the Allegany County Board of Education.

It was the right decision for the children in our community, and for the community overall.

Kimi-Scott McGreevy

Cumberland

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