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Schools That Are Both Big and Small

In the San Antonio Independent School District, the focus is on breaking down - school size that is, as the Texas city seeks to turn its eight large public high schools (average enrollment: 2,000) into clusters of small academies or magnet schools with between 400 to 600 students each.

The city hopes to find a way to weave together some of the best of the small-school experience with certain benefits of large schools. The small schools within each large school plan to continue to support one large football team and one large marching band.

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"People want to keep the advantages of the big institutions," says Tom Gregory, professor of education at Indiana University in Bloomington. "They want that broad-based curriculum and that big football team."

In some Indianapolis suburbs, says Dr. Gregory, efforts to break down large schools have caused parental unhappiness. "They say the community is now less united and there are no more top-flight orchestras."

At the 125-pupil Heath Elementary School in Heath, Mass., principal Philip O'Reilly says small schools have their pros and cons.

On the plus side: "Every teacher takes ownership of every student that walks through the door." On the negative side: "There are fewer support services."

Some educators warn against expecting too much from a simple change in school size.

"Size isn't everything," says Joann Manning, director of field services at the laboratory for school success at Philadelphia's Temple University. "[A smaller school] doesn't necessarily mean people are teaching in more powerful ways. But it does organize the school in a way that's useful."

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