Profiles of Successful Schools

The following three schools, John A. Johnson Elementary School in St. Paul, Mo.; White River High School in Buckley, Wash.; and Sci-Tech High School in Harrisburg, Pa., received national recognition in 2005 for being successful. They aren’t the same. In fact, they are quite different, which shows that, when it comes to educational facilities, success, although measured in different ways, is still success.

White River High School

White River High School won the James D. MacConnell Award from the Council for Educational Facility Planners Inc. The project is an example of intensive collaboration and community planning that resulted in educational specifications and program requirements which clearly defined their five design goals which are: promote community use and lifelong learning; create a place that instills in students, staff and the community a sense of identity and belonging; provide a diversity of places within the school to support a wide range of learning activities and opportunities; optimize use of available resources by providing flexible and adaptable learning settings that facilitate multi-use; and enhance productivity and personal well-being by providing learning settings that are functional, attractive and inviting to use.

The community had real space needs with an existing, older historic building that the administration and board of education felt the community would want to maintain and restore, as well as add onto, to accommodate their growth. But after three failed bond attempts, the board and administration decided they needed to go to the community with a consensus-building engagement process. Support surfaced (to their surprise) for a new high school at a price tag of approximately $50,000,000 versus the previous bond issue to renovate for $15,000,000. The bond issue was overwhelmingly supported.

This building is truly a community center that promotes community use and lifelong learning. Its design provides an identity that begged student, staff and public participation and a real sense of belonging. The physical layout of the building provides a variety of learning settings, with multiple academies, as well as three separate core area study academies. These academies are supplemented with physical education/athletic facilities and a theater. The center gathering place is the daylit cafeteria/commons area.

Flexibility and multi-use is also exemplified in each of the academies. The central core of these academies is open to the surrounding classrooms/labs and works as an extended learning area of the classrooms/labs themselves. The open, light-filled spaces promote learning and encourage collaborative efforts between students and staff. The design promotes the introduction of natural light and use of natural materials that truly provides a quality learning environment. The design embraces many sustainable elements in the designer's attempt to become LEED certified. All in all, the building meets or exceeds the goals established by the community and documented in the ed specs.

The John D. MacConnell Award judges look for a thorough, comprehensive planning process; the development of comprehensive educational specifications and/or program requirements; and a design that meets the requirement of the educational program with special emphasis on functionality of educational spaces.

The jury applauded White River’s unique school design, providing an identity that begs student, staff and public participation and a real sense of belonging. It was also recognized for the“intensive collaboration and community planning that resulted in exemplary educational specifications and program requirements, providing an exciting solution addressing all five of their design goals. The building is truly a community center that promotes community use and lifelong learning.

The school was designed by Integrus Architecture.

Sci-Tech High School

Sci-Tech High School was the Grand Prize winner of this magazine’s Education Design Showcase. Sci-Tech is a magnet school for math and science that occupies the former YMCA building in the Harrisburg downtown area. The project required a complete demolition of all interior spaces, modernization of the building envelope and infrastructure improvements. Its location is expected to provide significant social and economic impact in the central business district.

The high school’s creative and unconventional educational model promotes maximum planned interaction between students and faculty, along with opportunities for chance encounters and impromptu meetings. A primary reception desk with security staff welcomes students and visitors to the facility throughout the day. A three-story intercommunication stair provides ease of movement for students and staff alike, encouraging frequent interaction beyond the classroom or office suite, and numerous meeting rooms and social spaces encourage small group interaction.

General classrooms were designed to allow instruction of multiple subjects. Traditional distance technologies are employed throughout the facility, including laptop computers, which are issued to all students and faculty. Information is accessed via a building-wide wireless network, and workstations located in the Resource Center provide additional CPU for intensive graphic or calculation-based projects. The Resource Center is an extension of the classrooms and laboratories on the upper levels.

Each of the three laboratories includes small product work areas for small group work in addition to the fixed workbenches and instructor stations, each supplied with compressed air, de-ionized water, gas and other utilities. Flexibility and mobility are achieved with mobile work surfaces, allowing easy reconfiguration of the rooms as required.

In addition to the three levels of instructional areas, the facility also provides support spaces on the fourth floor and in the lower level, which also houses a stand-alone food service operation and multipurpose room. Throughout the day, visiting lectures in this area features business and civic leaders, as well as visiting faculty. The fifth floor provides space for faculty offices, as well as incubator space for emerging technical businesses.

The project was recognized because of the architect/designer response to program requirements, aesthetic characteristics of the solution, innovation and creativeness, efficient use of space, flexibility to accommodate changes site design and cost effectiveness. Judges stated,“the design was interesting. The use of a downtown building is a good response to urban planning. This is the type of facility that promotes community involvement. Its placement and existence will build up the community and the city. The space could be reused if the school ceases to exist. It is a perfect response to the site.”

The school was designed by Murray Associates Architects, P.C.

John A. Johnson Elementary School

The John A. Johnson Elementary School was recognized by Great Schools by Design, an initiative of the American Architectural Foundation (AAF). The program is designed to heighten awareness about the need to restore and design better, more sustainable schools for our nation’s children. In partnership with KnowledgeWorks Foundation, the AAF is developing a series of documentaries featuring best practices in school design. The first of these documentaries featured John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary School and premiered at the 2005 national convention of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) in San Diego.

The documentary showcases the story of John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary School, a struggling urban St. Paul public school that is reborn as a beacon of academic excellence, design innovation and community involvement. The community school serves 320 children from kindergarten to 6th grade, plus around 100 children who are part of the school's early childhood program.

The school is located on the east side of Saint Paul, a section of the city that has seen economic hard times. More than 90 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunches. For many members of the community, the renovation of an old and unused high school was seen as a critical piece in the revival of the East Side.

The renovated 75,000-sq.-ft. school reopened in 2000 and is co-located next to a new 63,000-sq.-ft. YMCA that serves 3,000 students and community members. The complex is a creative partnership among the city, school district, county, the YMCA, the East Side Family Center and the Wilder Foundation. The total cost to build the complex was $29.5 million, including $6.8 million for the YMCA.

The renovation of the school was extensive. John A. Johnson's old gymnasium became the new cafeteria. The old auditorium became a library and classrooms. The new YMCA now serves as the school's gym and provides space for after school opportunities. The renovation also included the creation of a large playing field and parking lot. The YMCA includes a full-size lap pool and a children's pool, as well as space for a daycare center, teen center, pre-school, aerobics studio and cardio-and-strength training equipment.

Community engagement was vital to the success of the planning process, given the fact that the school district needed to demolish some houses and relocate families. Through an endless series of meetings, the community organized a site team that evolved into a site-based school council. Taskforces were also created to provide recommendations regarding mental health, early childhood learning, extended learning and family support.

As a result, the design team made an extensive effort to integrate space for support services. An entire wing of offices and meetings rooms was developed by the design team for support services in a high-traffic area of the school that is removed from the classroom area. The Eastside Family Center relocated to the school to provide some of the services. The school has 17 functioning partnerships providing on-site services to students and families. Services offered include mental health, physical health, family support, early childhood, adult education, dental and tutoring services. These services are also available to the larger East Side community.

The school and community partnerships produced results. The proportion of Johnson students scoring "satisfactory" or "higher" on standardized tests increased by 20 percentage points from 2003 to 2004.

The school was designed by Ankeny Kell Architects in St. Paul.