Sunday, August 1, 2010

School Improvement in Small Schools

Small schools, particularly in rural communities, face real challenges to provide their students with the educational opportunities available in larger settings. For more than eight years the Union Pacific Foundation has funded a program focused on improving leadership in high schools in its service area. The railroad serves the vast western part of the country generally from the Mississippi River west.

While many schools are in urban areas like Chicago, St. Louis, Oakland, Portland, Houston or San Antonio, many others are located in small rural communities along UP rail lines.

West Desert High School is one of those schools. Located in Trout Creek, UT, in the middle of the Great Salt desert several hours from Salt Lake City, West Desert has fewer than thirty students in grades 7-12. Principal Ed Adler described the school as about an hour after the end of the blacktop. Despite its remote location and small size, the staff at West Desert is committed to being the best. It was recently recognized as the highest performing public high school in Utah.

The curriculum is unique in design but meets all of Utah’s curricular requirements. The daily math class includes every student and everyone studies the same subject. One year it may be Algebra, the next Algebra II or Geometry. At West Desert they’ve discovered the power of students working together, regardless of age, to master the content. Similarly, the science program includes only one subject each year. They’ve set aside the age and grade parameters that are taken for granted in many schools.

West Desert is a wonderful example of the power of a principal and teachers working creatively to assure that their students have a quality program. If you ever want to visit Great Salt Desert, you’d be very welcome to visit the high school.

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