Your Views: Alexandria needs more, smaller high schools

Your Views: Alexandria needs more, smaller high schools
Alexandria City High School (Courtesy photo)

To the editor:

The high school project decision must support all students – especially those low on the economic scale. A multi-campus, one-school model would result in one extra-large high school, maybe one of the largest in the country. I contend this extra-large high school would not be a point of honor, but a point of many issues, especially for low-income students.

Large high schools are risky to our most vulnerable students. The research is clear: Large high schools are less equitable, less safe and graduate fewer students. If equity is an important issue for our city, one extremely large high school is not the answer. Any upside to a one-campus model does not outweigh the real risk of one large high school.

We know that large high schools, particularly those serving low-income students, have disproportionately lower achievement. Larger high schools have higher incidences of violence than smaller schools serving similar student populations, along with lower graduation rates and a higher cost per graduate. In New York City, the largest district in the country, when they need to rebuild a larger high school, they are replacing them with small high schools that have better outcomes and graduation rates.

We must build a second high school, so that in the future we can continue to build smaller high schools that serve our students better. Compared to five other similar-sized U.S. cities – Bridgeport, Connecticut; Eugene, Oregon; Dayton, Ohio; Waco, Texas and Naperville, Illinois – with comparable school enrollment, Alexandria is the only city to have one high school. The question we should be asking is “When are we building the third and fourth high schools,” not if we should build a second.

Two or more high schools provide more opportunities for sports, music, drama, leadership and overall engagement. One large high school limits opportunities for involvement in activities that are crucial to college admissions and other post-secondary opportunities.

A multi-campus, one-school model is untested and has no research behind it. It is risky, and we should not chase shiny objects in education without research to support outcomes. Research from respected sources shows that for high schools, larger is not better for low-income students. Logically, it’s not better for any student. This is a decision that this community will live with for generations to come. The school board votes tonight. Let your voice be heard.

-Angela Mills, mother of two ACPS children