Building Successful Rural Schools: Beating the Odds

A Little School That Could

State Route 22 meanders north from the Bronx to the Canadian border on the eastern edge of New York State. Take a two-hour drive south from Montreal, and you'll wind through Crown Point, which sits on the western shores of Lake Champlain and today has a population of 2,000, roughly unchanged from two centuries ago. Because of its location on the narrows of the lake, Crown Point, once the water highway between New York City and Montreal, played a prominent role in the Revolutionary War. The remains of Fort Crown Point, built in 1 759 during the French and Indian War by British and Provincial troops, can be seen from the road as you travel east to the bridge that connects Crown Point to Vermont.

Vermonters began creating a permanent settlement in what would become present-day Crown Point in 1800. The first school was opened soon after in 1805 with an inaugural class of five students in a small store that provided supplies to pioneers. Other schools followed, with educators from Vermont traveling to these schools to teach. Many Vermonters first crossed the lake to clear land, plant crops, and begin building homes for their families. A ferry eventually connected Crown Point with the Green Mountain State, and by the 1820s, industries such as lumbering and mercantile operations followed. The Penfield ore bed was discovered soon after and was later transformed into the Irondale complex. By 1873, a railroad linked the iron towns of Hammondville and Irondale in Crown Point to the rail lines north and south.

By the mid-19th century, Crown Point was a thriving industrialized community with fine homes and wealthy, educated individuals, including doctors, lawyers, business owners, and educators who attended a local academy for teachers. Prosperity was abundant.

Sadly, this was not to last. By the turn of the century, the iron mines showed signs of overuse and were eventually phased out. Agriculture decreased, businesses closed, and wealthy residents moved elsewhere. Crown Point struggled to replace these jobs as the United States transitioned from an industrialized, agriculture-based economy into a digital and service-based economy. It was a devastating decline, but not one capable of breaking the backs—or spirits—of its resilient residents.

Today, if you drive through Crown Point toward Ticonderoga, another Revolutionary War site, you pass a diner, a gas station/deli, and a fuel company. In many ways, it's quintessential small-town America, populated by people whose families have lived there for centuries. Some people graduate high school and never come back, others never leave, and some return after a time away.

By the start of the 21st century, a group of local leaders decided that if their beloved town was going to thrive, quality education was going to have to be the catalyst. Tucked away on the eastern side of town sits Crown Point Central, a school so small that seniors and pre-kindergartners eat lunch together in the cafeteria. The school has overcome a litany of rural obstacles so that 85% of its students now attend college, with an 80% on-time college diploma attainment rate. Recognized for its excellence throughout the region, Crown Point Central beat the odds and is now being studied by graduate students from Harvard and the University at Albany.

This chapter tells the story of how Crown Point Central fought for its students and succeeded in its mission to prepare them for college and beyond, despite its isolation and limited resources. Crown Point's story shows its success wasn't just about luck: It was about careful, intentional actions carried out daily by a wide range of stakeholders, from teachers to CFES (College For Every Student) staff members and community members. As Crown Point Central's teachers, administrators, and graduates can attest, the strategies leading to the school's success are replicable and can provide a practical blueprint for other rural schools seeking to motivate and prepare their students for higher education.

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