Class acts: Tehama County’s smart solution for small schools
Ask anyone who lives in the country and they will tell you there are many benefits to living in a smaller, rural community. However, one of the challenges is in the size of the schools. It can be particularly challenging when there are fewer than three students in a grade level.
In an effort to meet the academic and social needs of all learners and keep teachers connected, one county office of education has started something new. In the northern part of California, the Tehama County Small Schools’ Consortium brings together the county’s smallest school districts to help each of them serve students better.
Members meet quarterly to discuss how to meet the changing needs of the classroom. They create the agenda to ensure meetings are focused on the most relevant issues, and a portion of each gathering is devoted to facilitated professional development conversations. The conversations in 2011-12 focused on the Common Core State Standards, Discovery Assessments, Data Director Management System, and e-learning opportunities. Many of the small schools rely on online learning to provide access to higher-level classes when a qualified teacher is not available on site. In between face-to-face meetings, they’ve created an online group that enables members to post and share resources, participate in discussion threads and share events and activities.
The consortium’s purpose and mission are in close alignment with the Tehama County Board of Trustees’ mission. The board supports the members, follows their work and progress, and provides professional facilitators to coordinate meetings and activities. That support is paying off for students. A review of Academic Performance Index growth from 2006 to 2011 demonstrates that student achievement has increased dramatically in participating schools—an average of nearly 80 points’ growth in API.
There are also economic and operational benefits. Consortium members review and adopt textbooks together, which allows for coordination of classroom pacing, collaborative professional learning and increased purchasing power. Extra resources are consolidated in one central location—the Small Schools Resource Center, located at the county office. As enrollment fluctuates, extra copies of student texts are sent to the Resource Center where they are available for any consortium member in need.
The schools play each other in sports and hold an annual track meet that rotates from school to school each year. They also invite one another on field trips, providing students opportunities to form friendships and learn from other students in the same grade level.
The county office coordinates two related events each year: the Small Schools Don Corrie Science Fair and the Small School Art Celebration. At the fair, young scientists are actively engaged with a judging group that provides feedback on each project as it is orally presented. There are plans to expand the event next year to include pre-fair tutoring from the judges.
The Art Celebration wraps up art instruction for the year and transforms the county office into the Small Schools’ Art Gallery. Students take a docent-led tour of the gallery, engage in an art workshop, and enjoy a feature demonstration. At last year’s event, the presentation featured a local Disney animator.
“What makes the consortium especially unique and exemplary is the heart and soul contributed by the schools and the depth of implementation,” explains Diane Ehrle, a consultant at the county office. “Members truly own the consortium and give unselfishly of their time and talents to meet the needs of their students and contribute to the consortium.”
Read more about Tehama County Small Schools’ Consortium—a CSBA Golden Bell Award-winner in the County Offices of Education category in 2012—and about the Golden Bell Program at http://gb.csba.org/winners2012.aspx.