The Central Point School District will hear from parents and students Tuesday about the effectiveness of small schools at Crater High School, now in place for the second year.

The Central Point School District will hear from parents and students Tuesday about the effectiveness of small schools at Crater High School, now in place for the second year.

The meeting, requested by parents who are not content with the new structure, comes at a time when small schools have become more controversial after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation decided to stop funding for the school-reform effort.

"We want to hear from the community about what their perceptions are," said Central Point schools Superintendent Randy Gravon. "It is our intention to use this as an opportunity to listen to the community and take the information to improve our outcomes for students."

The district also plans to present information about progress the high school has made in test scores, student retention, increased enrollment in advanced classes and growth in the percentage of pupils who apply for college.

Small-school opponents have couched the Gates Foundation's move as an indictment of small-schools' failure.

However, Central Point schools officials point out that the foundation also pointed out examples of small schools that were successful. The foundation noted that some schools' lack of fidelity in implementing the school-reform model, such as removing ineffective teachers and changing curriculum, was one of the reasons some schools weren't successful.

Splitting the schools into smaller units is only one aspect of the small-schools formula, Central Point district officials said. It's what happens in the classroom that matters, they said. As a result of staff training, curriculum modifications, theme-based instruction and closer connections between students and teachers fostered by small schools, Crater students have higher reading scores across the high school, lower dropout rates and more college applications, officials said.

"Meeting the needs of all kids is what drove us to choose small schools," Gravon said. And, so far, district officials said they're happy with the results.

The Gates Foundation's reversal on small-school funding won't have any effect on Crater. The Oregon Small School Initiative, which leads the school-reform movement in Oregon, receives funding from other sources, including the Meyer Memorial Trust.

Moreover, Crater doesn't need the grant money to operate the schools. Those funds were meant for staff development and curriculum revisions.

One of the biggest complaints by parents and students is that the concept limits the electives pupils can take. Because each of Crater's four small schools is autonomous with separate schedules, students are sometimes barred from taking electives in other small schools.

There are two early-bird periods and a crossover period during first period when students can take classes in other schools, but those offerings are limited.

"There is just a lack of diversity in everything we are doing," said Kirk Corcoran, a senior in the Crater Academy of Natural Resources. Students can't do the kind of academic exploration they could before the conversion, he said. For instance, students in schools outside his can't take an agricultural class.

"We got to choose what school we wanted," noted Vince Feeley, a senior in the Crater School of Business, Innovation & Sciences. "We weren't forced into a school."

Feeley approves of the new model and the theme-based instruction, which he finds stimulating.

When he was taking pre-calculus, for instance, the class built bridges using math skills they'd learned.

Meanwhile, Corcoran said, small schools have created a lot of division between students in each school, reinforcing stereotypes and instigating rivalries.

Hannah Bryant, a junior in the Crater Renaissance Academy, agreed that factions between schools are a drawback of small schools, but she views that as the model's only negative.

"I really like the small schools," Bryant said. "Before, I was in classes with students I didn't know and teachers who didn't know me. Now, everyone knows each other. It's like a family. That fact makes me less afraid to ask questions during class, and teachers seem to have more time to talk to each of us."

Mariel Smith, a senior in the Crater Academy of Natural Resources, said small schools help students who are struggling. But for those who are doing well in academics, classes don't seem as challenging as before the conversion, she said.

"I think what they're trying to accomplish with teacher-student relations is a good goal," Smith said, "but the way they're trying to accomplish the goal isn't working. If all the schools were on the same schedules so there was more crossover, I think it would be better."

The meeting convenes at 6 p.m. at the Central Point School District office, 300 Ash St., in Central Point.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.