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High school decision needs some research

August 30, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

It's time to decide.

That's the message from 200 residents of the Chambersburg Area School District who attended a meeting this week on the future of the district's high school. But before anyone decides that a new "mega high school" is the answer, we suggest that they look at the research done on the optimum size for a school's student body.

The high school issue has been hashed around for more than two years, after which the following options have been put on the table:

- Building a new "mega high school,"

- Renovating the existing school and building a second high school, or

- Doing a combined renovation/expansion project at the existing high school, then creating a smaller, separate school for ninth graders on property nearby.

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In addition, residents who attended those meetings offered a number of ideas, including building a new school, but only for grades 10 through 12 so it wouldn't grow too large.

Whatever is decided, we would urge educators and parents to look at the research that's been done on the ideal size for a student body. A school is a community, and just as towns begin to lose some of their good qualities when they get too crowded, the same is true for schools.

In 1999, when school officials in Jeffferson County, W.Va., began looking at adding students to a high school there that already held 1,600 pupils, Herald-Mail editors sought data on how large a high school can be and still function effectively.

We found that in 1996, two University of Michigan reseachers had completed a nine-year study, using standard test results and other factors, that showed the ideal high school has between 600 and 900 students.

We're sure there are other studies, just as we're sure that no matter how many people there are on staff, when a school gets too large, the students in the middle - those who are not high achievers or troublemakers - get lost in the crowd.

The decision is up to the school district and the parents who live there. But please, look at the research.

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