By Marlena Hartz
When it comes to meeting No Child Left Behind mandates, small schools reign, and state officials have noticed.
Nine rural school districts in eastern New Mexico, including Dora and Elida have been named “quality districts” by the Public Education Department and Gov. Bill Richardson. Those nine districts, in addition to 21 others across the state, will be officially recognized for making Adequate Yearly Progress in an awards ceremony Jan. 20 at the Capitol.
According to Dora superintendet Steve Barron, he’ll be in Santa Fe later this month to accept the award.
The nine-district swath has meanwhile adopted a nickname of its own, “Educational Paradise,” according to Grady Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Posey. It was adopted lightheartedly, but it does offer a glimpse into the mindset of many rural school officials.
To make Adequate Yearly Progress, all schools within a district must meet certain state set standards and students in that district must pass an annual exam.
But subgroups, such as special education students and English Language Learners, must also pass the AYP exam, so in larger districts, making AYP can become more difficult. As student population swells, so do the number of subgroups in a school and in a district.
Rural school officials are not entirely dismissive of the size factor, while nonetheless adamant there is more to their success than size.
“Our teachers and staff are really in tune with our students and they understand how to motivate them,” said Texico Schools Superintendent R.L. Richards, whose district includes about 525 students.
There are even less students, roughly 150, in the Grady school district. But special education and Hispanic populations in the district are large enough to count in AYP. Both groups passed AYP in 2005.
“The big difference between rural and urban schools is there is time for personal interest in each and every student. We don’t have any students falling the through the cracks,” Posey said.
The benefits of smaller schools are far from secret. Since the implementation of AYP, several larger districts have decided to break large schools into smaller units, Posey said.
But being small doesn’t guarantee success, according to New Mexico Assistant Secretary of Education Geri Romero-Roybal.
“There are a lot of factors in meeting AYP, and I am not sure we can make a generalized statement that says if you are a small district, you will be a quality district,” Romero-Roybal said, citing the importance of a qualified staff as an example.
On the other hand, research indicates there is something special about small schools, something deserving of attention and replication, she said.
“Quality districts” being honored include:
• Elida Municipal Schools
• Dora Consolidated School
• Grady Municipal Schools
• Fort Sumner Municipal Schools
• House Municipal Schools
• Logan Municipal Schools
• Melrose Public Schools
• San Jon Municipal Schools
• Texico Municipal Schools