Not a typical fairy tale: Stories of success in a small school

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No Child Left Behind (NCLB) created high standards and high stakes accountability designed to ensure improvement in the nation’s schools. It placed more demands on local school districts, and thus on teachers, to increase high school graduation rates and ensure college readiness. In spite of NCLB, the number of students dropping out nationwide is staggering: approximately 30% of high school students will not graduate. Although local communities, state governments, and federal agencies have wrangled over the accuracy of this startling statistic, year after year, for the last four decades the dropout rate has consistently remained at approximately one-third.

One small rural school district in Texas has increased its student population every year for the last three years with a consistent at-risk population of at least 40% yet had no dropouts. The focus of this descriptive case study was to explore teachers’ perceptions of their ability to cultivate a culture of success (staying in school and earning their diploma) for at-risk students. The central purpose was to tell the stories of four teachers, and in doing so, learn what is going right with schools rather than focus on what is wrong with schools.
The themes that emerged from the study were presented as stories analogous to the children’s stories with which many are familiar. Though the problems faced in education are difficult and complicated, often the solutions can be simple, like the fairy tales or children’s stories of our youth. The teachers and administrators in this small, rural school created a caring, family culture for the at-risk population, many of whom were transfer students from surrounding communities. The teachers promoted resiliency in their students to ensure academic success. Strong collective teacher efficacy was evident in the stories shared by the four teachers who represented the elementary, junior high, and high school levels.

At-Risk Students, Dropout Prevention, Small School, Rural School, Resiliency, Collective Teacher Efficacy, Caring School Culture