The buzz and grant funding have cooled. The national movement has quieted. What remains locally of the small schools reform effort are five under-enrolled Sacramento City Unified schools.
But for Matt Perry, the district director of high school reform, success is measured by improving graduation rates and the feedback from families whose children are enrolled in the small schools.
"If it wasn't for this school, who knows if he would have graduated," said Ben Martinez, whose son, Matthew, graduated last week with 26 of his peers at the School of Engineering and Sciences.
"He wouldn't have," said Matthew's mother, Alex Martinez. "This is the best thing that's ever happened to us, this school."
The 364-student School of Engineering and Sciences was created as part of the small school reform movement that took off a decade ago.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation touted and heavily financed the approach, which aimed to personalize schools by making them smaller. The Gates Foundation believed teens were less likely to fall through the cracks at schools with fewer than 500 students.
Sacramento City Unified was among the districts to receive millions in small school grant money, including $4 million from the Gates Foundation in 2001. The district used the money to open five small high schools in 2003.
Across the country, other districts were doing the same. But, by 2008, the Gates Foundation stopped funding small school efforts, calling the results disappointing. Education reformers latched on to other efforts.
"This was the premier reform agenda at one point," said Thomas Timar, professor of education policy at UC Davis. "It's lost whatever momentum it had."
Timar said many school districts found the approach to be too pricey because of site administration and additional facilities costs.
"A lot of these ideas, like the small school concept, it takes time to develop," Timar said. "So much of the problem with education in the United States, especially in urban settings, is that they are in a constant state of spin. The pendulum swings so swiftly. I'm glad (Sacramento City) is allowing this to take root and see if they can be successful."
Sacramento City's small schools have had their problems. Many have moved multiple times before finding a permanent home. During the 2006-2007 school year, three of the small high schools had some of the highest dropout rates in the region.
At America's Choice High School, the dropout rate was 60.5 percent, which was more than twice the state average, while Genesis High School had a 37 percent dropout rate and The Met had a 33.5 percent dropout rate.
America's Choice has since been remade, renamed and is now a public Waldorf- inspired school in Rosemont called George Washington Carver. Genesis High, which was next to the district's headquarters, was closed in 2009. The state's most recent dropout figures show The Met, an internship-based program on 8th and V streets, lowered its dropout rate to 21.6 percent for the 2008-2009 school year, which is below the state average.
The district's two other small schools have much lower dropout rates for 2008-2009 than the state average Arthur A. Benjamin Health Professions has a 15.9 percent dropout rate and New Technology High has a 19.1 percent dropout rate.
Graduation data for 2009-2010 are expected to be released by the state this summer.
The School of Engineering and Sciences graduated its first class last week.
Sacramento City spokesman Gabe Ross said the district anticipates enrollment continuing to rise at the five small schools. George Washington Carver increased its student body by 47 students to 245 this school year.
However, the campus holds 400 students.
"The success of these campuses and efficiency in which they educate and graduate kids needs to be taken into account," said Ross. He said high graduation rates mean school districts aren't paying twice for students who drop out and attend adult education courses.
The School of Engineering and Sciences counselor Carmen Segovia said she's already seen the small school approach working with her students.
"They would have gotten lost in a large high school," Segovia said. "Not only do I know their names, I know their families, I know their aspirations."