A dispassionate assessment would seemingly lead to the logical conclusion that it makes no sense to continue operating a small high school when quality alternatives are available. Because a small high school has many of the same administrative and overhead costs as a larger school, albeit at a different scale, per pupil costs are generally higher. A smaller school means a smaller faculty and curriculum, and so less academic options for students. Sports opportunities for gifted athletes are likewise limited, as are other extracurricular activities.
But there is nothing dispassionate when it comes to feelings about a local high school. That was evident Wednesday night when a large crowd filled the North Stonington Elementary School gym to discuss a 179-signature petition calling for closing the small town's high school. Most speakers spoke emotionally about their love of the school and desire to keep it open.
They said the high school, with its 220 students, is part of the fabric of the town. Speakers noted the closeness between faculty and students assures that no kid falls between the cracks. It is a high school small enough that everyone knows everyone else, and that is certainly a nice thing.
But academically is it the best option? We don't see how. There are many good high schools in the region that accept students from other communities on a per pupil tuition basis. Other small towns in the region, Preston, Lisbon, Franklin, Canterbury, Sprague, for example, meet the needs of their high school students this way
A 2011 consultant study concluded only minimal savings would result from closing the high school and paying tuition elsewhere. But factoring in the long-term operating expenses and maintenance costs for the high school, we question how such a change could not produce substantial savings.
But this is ultimately a North Stonington decision. After Wednesday's hearing the school board reiterated its support for keeping the high school open and will soon develop a long-range plan, leading in 2014 to a referendum vote on school improvements. It's hard to fault a community for being true to its school.