SURVIVING HS X5654: Tales of Abuse, Bullying, Intimidation, Subversion, and Disenfranchisement

The perceived failure of the traditional public high schools to serve their students well fueled the rapid growth of the small-schools movement in the early 2000s. The belief was that unlike the large schools, the smaller schools would offer an authentic family-like relationships that will lead to higher engagement and achievement, thus closing the achievement gap and creating better opportunities for its students. Hence, the small schools will be able to mitigate the many challenges (poverty, homelessness, chronic absenteeism, etc.) students in economically disadvantaged areas face. Unfortunately, in many of these small schools, the hoped-for improvement in pedagogy and student achievement has been elusive. It appears that the leaders of these small schools have been corrupted by the power this position affords them. They will use any tool available--attacking, distorting, bullying, intimidating, lying, punishing--to hold onto their positions. Even though the toxicity of the environment leads to the mass exodus of pedagogical staff that caused an entire grade level to be without experienced content specialists, and the requirements of students' IEPs unmet, the principal remains steadfast in her belief: it is her school; you either do as she says or get out of her building. However, it is clear that to create the kinds of culturally responsive, uplifting, family-like structure that the small-school movement purports, it must transcend the traditional power structure between the leaders and those under their charge. Until that is achieved, the kinds of relationships that exist in the school featured in this text will continue to be the norm, not the exception.

by Sandra D. Fairweather, EdD.

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