Eleven Structural Guidelines for Small Schools Concerned with Equity

Schools in the Small Schools Incubator, sponsored by Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools, Oakland Community Organizations and the Oakland Unified School District, use these guidelines as touchstones throughout the proposal and planning processes.

  1. Simple structures work best: a cohort of students, a team of teachers with full responsibility for student learning within a block of time and/or over a span of years.
  2. Personalize the school to the maximum extent feasible. For middle and high school teachers, a total student load of 80:1 or less, with the lowest class sizes you can afford in elementary school. Establish a physical place identifiable as the small school. Contiguous time, space and a distinctive physical learning environment are critical to creating a sense of safety and community.
  3. Create structures and practices that ensure multi-year relationships with students and families.
  4. Establish clear leadership and participatory governance with substantial power over the six autonomies* and rigorous use of data to set goals and make decisions.
  5. Use heterogeneous grouping with differentiated supports for students with special needs (supporting these students should not require segregating them).
  6. Provide and protect dedicated time for teacher collaboration: with each other, with students, with families.
  7. Think through and establish equitable admissions policies: make sure that choice is aligned with advocacy for those who need assistance making choices-recruit to your demographic targets.
  8. Ensure that each student has a school-based advocate; preferably one that is consistent over all the years the student is in the school.
  9. Create frequent, scheduled opportunities for families, students and teachers to look at student work together, define standards and goals, and build strategies for supporting student learning.
  10. A deep commitment to continuous professional development for school professionals should be reflected in time, calendar and budget.
  11. And remember this warning, the devil is in the details! Start simply and prioritize. Think your ideas through to the nuts and the bolts. Don’t try to do everything all at once. If a design feature doesn’t have dedicated time, leadership, resources, and expertise, you won’t get the outcomes you want.

*The Six Autonomies: Based on work done by Boston’s Center for Collaborative Education, Bayces staff identified six areas that schools should be able to control for themselves: staffing, budget, curriculum and assessment, governance and policies, school calendar and schedule, and contiguous space identifiable as “our school.” For the entire text of the Six Autonomies, see www.bayces.org/small_schools/creating/six-autonomies.htm.

For more information on the Small Schools Incubator and these guidelines, please contact Madeleine Clarke, Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools Director of Development, 510/208-0160 or madeleine@bayces.org