North Eugene High School (NEHS)

NEHS Small Schools Initiative

Making the Case for Conversions in 2005 --

It's Getting Harder

By Bob Pearlman

It used to be easier. Before the explosion of the small schools movement 3-4 years ago, all you needed to do to make the case statement for small schools was to point to the disaster of large high schools -- the dropouts, the low graduation rates, the lack of student engagement. Now, in 2005, there are enough successes and failures on the ground that opponents will be able to point to flawed examples of either design or execution.

It may be harder now, but not impossible, as shown by this interesting case study about the road to converting large high schools.

North Eugene (OR) HS has been planning for two years to convert to small schools. In the final stages of their development, after making application to the Oregon Small Schools Initiative (OSSI), staff from North Eugene HS visit Mountlake Terrace HS in Edmonds, WA, and come away "deflated". Mountlake Terrace had been one of the more successful national conversions, but now has reached a point where some of its staff, and students, oppose the change, though most still support it.

North Eugene HS staff members then decide to take a second vote on converting, to be held on April 8. Read about the visit, the controversy that ensued, see the articles, opinion pieces, and editorials in the local paper, and finally read about the vote.

[Thanks to Michelle Swanson of OSSI and Swanson & Cosgrave for alerting me to this story and to Google News Alerts for helping me research this story]

  1. The Visit to Mountlake Terrace
  2. Articles, opinion pieces, and editorials in the local paper
  3. The Vote
  4. North Eugene High School Small Schools Initiative Web pages
  5. Conclusion

1. The Visit to Mountlake Terrace

Revisiting 'small schools': Some North Eugene staff members have ......
"Revisiting 'small schools': Some North Eugene staff members have second thoughts about remaking the school after seeing the model at work", By Anne Williams, The Register-Guard, Eugene (OR), February 25, 2005

North Eugene High School: Small Schools Initiative
... Mountlake Terrace, WA Click here to read the summary of the NEHS site visit
... Go to the school web site. Back to the
North Eugene High School web site ...
[ More results from ]

The News-Review - News
"Eugene high school may think again on small schools
", February 28, 2005, ... Administrators from North Eugene High School recently visited two Seattle-area... but deflated after a visit to suburban Mountlake Terrace High School. ...

Local small-school idea still in favor - February 26, 2005
"Eugene shows reservations about smaller ‘academies’", The Associated Press, February 26, 2005 ... Wieczorek expressed surprise that
North Eugene High School might consider ...but deflated after a visit to suburban Mountlake Terrace High School. ...

2. Articles, opinion pieces, and editorials in the local paper

North Eugene teachers pitch small-school ideas
The Register-Guard, Oregon - Mar 18, 2005
North Eugene High School teachers tested their salesmanship Thursday night, unveiling and explaining six proposals for new small high schools to an engaged but ...

Guest Viewpoint: Reform effort under way at North Eugene High
The Register-Guard, Oregon - Mar 15, 2005
By Peter Tromba (NEHS Principal). The two most frequently asked questions about our work at North Eugene High School are: "Why small schools?" and, "How is it going?". ...

Guest Viewpoint: North Eugene High on right path
The Register-Guard, 
Oregon - Mar 23, 2005
North Eugene High School is on the right track with an ambitious plan to convert to small schools. The school is one of 12 that ...

3. The Vote

North favors small schools
The Register-Guard, 
Oregon - 1 hour ago
A cloud of doubt over
North Eugene High School lifted Friday with a vote by staff members to continue with plans to break apart into three or more separate ...

Educational risk-takers: North's staff favors small schools ...
The Register-Guard -
... North, along with seven other
Oregon high schools that have been awarded grants by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Meyer Memorial Trust, will ...

Email Letter from Mountlake Terrace High School Teacher Leader responding to story in the Register-Guard Newspaper

"Complicated conversion gets big school to think small", By Lynn Thompson, Seattle Times (Registration required), Wednesday, February 16, 2005. Story on Mountlake Terrace High School .

4. North Eugene High School Small Schools Initiative Web pages

North Eugene High School Web Site

Small Schools web pages at North Eugene High School

North Alliance Tech web site (Proposed New Tech HS Replication)

5. Conclusion

In April, 2004, the Northy Eugene HS faculty and staff had voted, 80-% to 20%, to accept a conversion grant from OSSI, if offerred. In April, 2005, the faculty and staff re-voted, 74-% to 26%, to move ahead with the conversion.

How did the North Eugene small school advocates prevail, after the "deflating" visit to Mountlake Terrace? How were the NEHS small school advocates able to successfully communicate to their school community both the meaning and the lessons from Mountlake Terrace.

North Eugene High School engaged their entire school community in two years of learning and planning. As part of the process the school has done more study, and study tours, and design work than practically any other school – see NEHS's Small Schools web site and the reports of their many study tours at

An example of the challenge facing small school advocates today is the just announced report of the Denver Public Schools Commission on Secondary School Reform. DCSSR could not issue an unequivocal recommendation for small schools since Manual High School in Denver, converted some 3 years ago, is seen as a flawed conversion. That Manual didn't get the district support needed at the time was hard to communicate. 

Large High School conversion requires design, implementation, and effective change management to bring about successful new small schools and a new culture of teaching and learning. District leadership and support, and effective small school leadership, is crucial.

Small School advocates no longer have the easy case statement of just pointing to disastrous large, comprehensive high schools. Instead they, like the educational leaders at North Eugene High School, will have to make the whole case -- design, implementation (execution), leadership, and curriculum make a difference.