David Goldberg, “Of Sprawl Schools and Small Schools”

David Goldberg’s “Of Sprawl Schools and Small Schools” (PDF) appeared in the Winter 2005 issue of On Common Ground, published by the National Association of Realtors. As the fate of Bridge Street School is weighed, these excerpts merit consideration:

As recently as 1969 roughly half of all students walked or biked to school. In 2001 the number was closer to one in 10. A study in South Carolina discovered that children are four times as likely to walk to schools built before
1983 than to those built after that year. The report attributed the change
largely to the increasingly remote and pedestrian-hostile settings of
newer schools. Of course, kids generally are less active today, and that’s
one reason the rates of obesity and physical inactivity among kids have
risen so that 30 percent of our kids are overweight or obese and a third
of middle and high schoolers are sedentary. At
the same time, the rise in rush-hour traffic associated
with school trips has been identified by the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a key
contributor to air quality problems in a number of

Meanwhile, there is mounting evidence that
the impersonal environment of the mega-school
inhibits the basic function of the school; that is,
giving kids the best education possible. This
realization has given rise to a growing movement
for small schools, a cause gaining an
increasingly high profile with the involvement
of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and
many others…

Smaller schools have lower drop-out rates
and higher average scores on standardized tests. Children in high-poverty
schools see an even more pronounced improvement. While it’s true that
larger schools generally do show a small savings on spending per student,
when that figure is computed for students who actually graduate, the per graduate
cost per student actually is slightly lower. Larger schools can
have more extracurricular offerings, but participation in after-school activities
declines as schools get larger. A U.S. Department of Education report
found that schools with over 1,000 students have much higher rates of
crime and vandalism than schools with 300 or fewer students. And teacher
satisfaction is higher in smaller schools, according to a Chicago study. (You
can find links to much of the research online at http://www.smallschoolsworkshop.org/ [link updated].)

See also:

On Common Ground: “The ABCs of Smart Growth Spell Out the Community School Vision” (PDF, Winter 2005)
Community school advocates and leaders of the Smart Growth
movement have joined forces in an informal alliance promoting
community schools as a focal point of both new communities
and the restoration of decaying inner city neighborhoods.
They are drawing strength from education reformers who have
concluded that small schools are better for kids than the megaschools
that school districts have tended to build on vacant land on
the edge of town. Their research shows that children attending
smaller schools get better grades, participate more in school activities
and are more likely to go to college.

As Sam Passmore put it in a Funders’ Network for Smart Growth
and Livable Communities report on Education and Smart Growth,
“The interests of Smart Growth advocates and education reformers
converge on a simple, but powerful idea, the small neighborhood
school.” Especially when those small neighborhood schools are
community schools.

In an article for the American School Board Journal, Washington,
D.C., consultants Barbara McCann and Constance Beaumont outlined
these characteristics of Smart Growth schools:

  • Small in size.
  • Broad community involvement.
  • High-quality education.
  • Students can walk to school.
  • Serve as community schools.
  • Good fit for the neighborhood.
  • Use existing facilities wherever possible.

New Urban News: “Principles of the New Urbanism”
The heart of the New Urbanism is in the design of neighborhoods, which can be defined by 13 elements, according to town planners Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, two of the founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism. An authentic neighborhood contains most of these elements:

…6) An elementary school is close enough so that most children can walk from their home…

Small Schools Workshop: “What Are Small Schools?”
Size is one determining characteristic of a small school, yet small schools are about much more than size. In contrast to large, factory-model schools, small schools can create a more intimate learning environment that is better able to address the needs of each student and teacher. Students, teachers, and parents may all be better served when a school is small enough to allow for effective communication amongst educators, students and the school community. In small schools, meaningful relationships are fostered and opportunities for collaboration are cultivated.

A small school offers an environment in which students are more visible. When students are better known, teachers can more easily identify individual talents and unique needs of each student, offering a more personalized educational experience.

A small school staff size allows more opportunity for teachers to know each other well, more easily share information about their students, collaborate to solve problems, and generally support one another.

Small schools are a way of restructuring schools and the human relationships inside them.

…there are some common features that often characterize good small schools… A maximum population of 250-300 students in a heterogeneous mix that represents the local school community…

School Committee Meeting Underscores Imminent Peril Facing Bridge Street School
“…it is my understanding that the strengths identified by the strategic
planning committee include small, neighborhood schools. I hope the
committee is not shortsighted about these findings but will use them in
order to preserve our school and all others in the city.”

Ward 3 Neighborhood Association: Statement of Support for Bridge Street Elementary School

Videos: Northampton Public Schools Strategic Planning, Open Meeting of 10/1/08; Did You Know?

Closing Bridge Street School Contradicts Smart Growth Goals
On page 11 of the Sustainable Northampton Plan, Land Use objective number 5 states:

Locate housing within walking distances along safe paths, or with
bicycle access, to and from neighborhood commercial areas, parks and
recreation, schools, and public transportation.

On page 51, one metric of progress is “Percent of children able to walk to school”.

“Back to School for Planners”
Schools contribute to the economic life and vitality of their
neighborhoods. When a community lacks a school, fewer new residents
move there and property values decline. The buying power of the school
district and its employees, and the purchases students, parents, and
community members make in businesses located around the school, can be