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Using Small Schools to Districts Benefit

Although the community has a high poverty level, the Hermitage (Missouri) School District continues to out-perform most districts in the state, thanks to small schools and dedicated teachers. Included: How a small, rural district keeps standards high.

District officials in the Hermitage School District, a small, rural district in Hickory County, Missouri, are finding that the requirements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act are consistent with the district's previous goals for improving student achievement.

Despite the fact that 71 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, Hermitage is one of the higher performing school districts in the state, with student scores that consistently exceed state averages. Staff members credit the small size of the elementary school, which is a Title I school, as a factor in its achievement success. With one class at each grade level, everyone in the school knows all the students, and the staff members work well as a team.

Hermitage officials credit these high performance levels to the district's accountability plan and its emphasis on hiring good teachers. For 2003-04, Hermitage made a major change in the grade level structure of its schools. The sixth graders, considered part of the middle school in previous years, are now included in the elementary school, which means they will be taught in self-contained classes rather than in the departmentalized structure of the middle school.

In 2003, the district offered a summer camp for students in all grades to provide academic enrichment for those who were falling behind in particular areas. The program was funded through the NCLB 21st Century Community Learning Program. The staff also considers the district's preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds to be important to student success.

The program for 4-year-olds is funded by the state of Missouri, and the federal Even Start program, now a part of NCLB, funds the program for 3- year-olds. These pre-school programs, attended by about half of the children of those ages, are closely connected to the district kindergarten program.

The district has no English language learners, and students with disabilities are not considered a subgroup for NCLB accountability purposes because the number is smaller than the state's minimum size for a subgroup.

Parent involvement continues to be a major goal for Hermitage, from pre-school through high school. Teachers make frequent calls to parents, not just to report problems, but also to report positive growth and work with parents on interventions that will lead to academic improvement. Parents are invited to participate in learning activities, such as the Family Fun Nights scheduled every month or so.

Although the Hermitage School District has done well thus far in meeting the goals of NCLB, staff is aware that the district's status could change in the future. If some of the highly qualified teachers were to leave, for example, it might be difficult to find replacements that are as well qualified.

If this occurs, the superintendent plans to assist any teachers with taking the state-approved test for complete certification. The test is given periodically in a neighboring county, and the district will provide whatever support teachers need, including reimbursements for mileage to and from the test-taking site.

SOURCE: Center on Education Policy

To read the full report, see A Look Inside 33 School Districts: Year 2 of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Share Your NCLB Strategies

Education World's Working With NCLB feature highlights schools or districts with stories to share about how they are implementing requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. If you have a Working With NCLB story to share, send an e-mail toEllen Delisio.