(05/29/2001)
HERE'S one for the bigger-is-always-better, consolidation-at-all-costs crowd: Tiny Buffalo High School in Putnam County was one of only two West Virginia high schools named a School of Excellence this year by the state Department of Education.

If you listen to self-appointed experts at the School Building Authority and in editorial columns of the Daily Mail, Buffalo High's success is inconceivable.

The 268-student school - so small that it was scheduled for closure, if a consolidation bond issue had passed - is too little to offer advanced classes and other electives that make high school a rich experience, those who look only at numbers say.

Wrong. Thanks to the "Bison Block," a special period carved out of the school day to provide both advanced and remedial classes to students, Buffalo has a rigorous curriculum exceeding that of many larger schools. Students can learn advanced chemistry or human physiology, for example.

What about art and music and other electives? Certainly, protest the naysayers, a tiny high school can't have the resources to offer such things. Wrong again. Buffalo recently began one of the first music programs in the state making use of computers and synthesizers.

Buffalo High even has after-school tutoring for kids of all ages needing to catch up.

Not every small school has Buffalo's success. Teachers, administrators, students and parents must all work together to achieve excellence. But it is possible, even in the smallest schools.

Huge schools don't necessarily lead to excellence. All the advanced placement classes in the world won't help students if they are taught by mediocre teachers who can't keep track of the faces and names of hundreds of students.

Sometimes consolidation makes sense. Sometimes it does not.

Some megaschools are excellent. Some are not. Some tiny schools, like Buffalo are excellent. Some are not.

The state Department of Education recognized Buffalo's excellence. Perhaps that will teach other education officials and critics in this state that big is not always beautiful.


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