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Old 07-21-2011, 09:08 AM
21 posts, read 89,969 times
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In my quest to find a new home, the schools remain a top priority. I have noticed that a number of people seem to have a preference for a large or small school district and I was wondering what people perceive to be the pros/cons of each. I have a toddler and a newborn, so I am not sure what works best for them yet. But I would like to move soon, so I need to figure this out before they are in school. Any insights? Thanks!
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Old 07-21-2011, 11:00 AM
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I only wanted small school districts for my children but I know people who feel the exact opposite. Bigger districts tend to have larger middle and high schools. I worked in a very large middle school in a large school district in Rockland. It was a wealthy area and a very good academic school but I felt that the middle school was very intimidating for a 10 year old. I felt that the principal couldn't know the kids. They separated the children into houses to try to make it seem small but it was a very impersonal. Although I believe alcohol and drugs are a huge issue in any school, bigger schools tend to have more issues. There is tons of research on big vs small schools and most places are downsizing their schools because of the evidence that smaller schools work better. Even the middle school that I worked in is now three separate schools. That is trend throughout the country- turning bigger schools into smaller schools. it is happening all over NYC.

Here are the pros and cons of each.

Large School District:
Pros- Variety of arts & sports, variety of classes, child gets to meet new people at the MS/HS level.

Cons- Anonymity, more competition in sports and arts, fear of large district when child is going to MS.

Small School District:
Pros- Less competition for sports and arts, teachers/family knowing each other, less intimidating.

Cons- Children do not get to meet new kids, lack of variety in sports, arts, classes.
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Old 07-21-2011, 11:47 AM
Location: Yorktown Heights NY
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The difference is in middle and high school. For primary and elementary schools every district in Westchester (I believe) has multiple schools so they are no larger than the primary or elementary schools you'll find in small districts. Some districts have K-3 schools and 4-5 schools--or k-2 and 3-5--which is wonderful because it keeps the focus of the entire school on the needs of a small age range.

I went to very small schools so I really wanted my kid to have a big middle and high school. While there are benefits to them, small schools can be more limited in terms of academic offerings, clubs, and extra-curricualr programs. They can also be much more intense in terms of social issues--ranking, hierarchy, and pressure. Its always easier to find your own niche and like-minded kids in a larger environment. Smaller schools can really intensify the social ills of middle and high school.

The move to smaller schools was a big thing in the 90's and 2000's in inner city schools (I actually worked on a study of NYC high schools back in the early 90's that were divided into mini-schools to try to combat droppout rates) but to my knowledge there was never much evidence of success (certainly not in the study I was involved in). Regardless, it was largely foccussed on urban districts with very low teacher-child ratios and support staff in which kids with problems tended to get lost and fall through the cracks. Even the largest schools in Westchester have much higher teacher-student ratios and much larger support staff (guidance conselors, etc) so that the chances of kids falling through the cracks is really no greater than in smaller schools.
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Old 07-21-2011, 12:03 PM
Location: Bellevue, WA
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Another thing to note is that even most of the 'big' schools in Westchester are small or medium at best by most standards. Scarsdale, Chappaqua and Mamaroneck (1500 or less I think) cannot be lumped into the same category as HSs in NYC. The only huge HS I am aware of in lower Westchester is New Rochelle.

Really, there are pros and cons for each and it does boil down to what is more important to you - more course offerings and activities, or that warm and fuzzy feeling you get by having everyone know each other by name (which can indeed be a good or bad thing IMO.)

For us, small districts were out of the question since my oldest has some special needs. If we landed in a small district, he almost certainly would have been sent out of district since many of the really small districts (Tuckahoe, Rye Neck and Edgemont for us) just don't have all of the services and variety of classes in one building like they do in a larger one. So, he never would have been in school with his siblings or the neighborhood kids. To us this was a dealbreaker, but for others, not so much - people send their kids to private school all of the time so it's not that much different.

If your kids are still very young and you HAD to choose one or the other, I would always err on the side of caution and go larger if you have no idea what the future will hold for them. It's always better to have something and not need it, than need it and not have it, IMO.
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Old 07-21-2011, 04:05 PM
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There really aren't many large school districts in Westchester and the large district I was referring to was in Rockland. There are also some huge districts in CT (Greenwich, Fairfield). I think people made some valid points for larger districts. It really is a matter of personal preference. I went to a large school and I want a more personal touch for my kids. I want the administration to know my kids. I also know that the MS years are tough, I don't think it is a good time to go to a big school. I would have a k-8 if I could.

JJinja, I have to differ with you on better services for special needs in larger districts. That may be true of some districts but not all. I have family in Larchmont and my services in Pleasantville are far superior to hers in Mamaroneck. Our inclusion program has far less special needs kids with more support. She has to fight for every service and she was shocked about how easily I obtained services. I think Pleasantville, Bronxville, Ardsley and Eastchester have services that are superior to Mamaroneck, Harrison & Chappaqua especially at the MS/HS level. Bedford is a bigger district that has good services. I think special needs is really on a district by district basis and not necessarily a large vs small school issue. Besides, I don't know how many kids with special needs would do better in a large middle school as opposed to a small one.
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Old 07-21-2011, 07:01 PM
Location: Bellevue, WA
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I've actually had a fairly decent experience with Mamaroneck so far, but only time will tell of course. I was only referring to the districts that we considered homes in and yes, Pleasantville does have a good reputation, as does Eastchester. Bronxville was never an option for us money-wise and Ardsley is just too much of a pain due to it's limited options for train access.

What I was saying re: big vs. small school was in general, not specifically. For instance, many of the small districts down here do not have full time therapists, nor a large array of special ed settings. In our district, they have a decent variety of integrated, mainstreamed and self-contained classes for both kids with or without cognitive deficits, so you are more likely to find a 'fit' in district without having to go out of district. They also have things like active SEPTA's and such, which is nice.
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Old 07-22-2011, 04:47 AM
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JJ- I think there is a new CSE chair in Mamaroneck who hopefully will be better. I know many people in Larchmont who were unhappy with the previous chair. I know a few very dissatisfied people who can't get services for their children. Many feel that all of the services go to Mamaroneck ave.
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