In 2000, Memorial became the first Madison school to land one of the U.S. Department of Education grants. It was awarded $438,000 to create its neighborhood social structure. West High School became the second, winning a $500,000 grant in 2002 and reorganizing its ninth and 10th grades around core courses.
In August, district officials were thrilled to learn the district was awarded $5.5 million over five years for its four major high schools — Memorial, West, La Follette and East — to build stronger connections among students and faculty by creating so-called “small learning communities” that divide each high school population into smaller populations.
Officials cite research showing that schools with 500 to 900 students tend to be the most effective, and recent findings suggest that students at schools with small learning communities are more likely to complete ninth grade, less likely to become involved in violence and more likely to attend college after graduation. However, the latest federal study failed to find a clear link between small learning communities and higher academic achievement.
Each Madison high school will develop its own plan for how to spend the grant money. Their common goals: Make school feel like a smaller, friendlier place where all students feel included. Shrink the racial achievement gap, raise graduation rates, expand the courses available and improve planning for further education and careers.
The high schools, with enrollments ranging from 1,600 to 2,000 students, are being redesigned as their overall scores on state 10th grade reading and math tests are worrisome, having declined slightly the past two years.