Should we ‘right-size’ or improve our learning environments?

by Mark Schoeman, AIA

There are some ideas I would like to float in regards to our schools. Some of these are in direct response to Jay Pocock’s viewpoint, “It’s time to right-size our schools.” Others may shed some light on why we need to improve our learning environments.

First of all, the issue of interdistrict transfer students (IDTs) always seems to rear up when we are asked to support our schools. Mr. Pocock’s premise, that only the lower performing schools receive the IDTs, is a bit misleading. If you were to add another column to the table provided and place them in the ranking of API scores, the story told is a very different one.

The idea that the IDTs are relegated only to our “lowest performing schools” is just not true. Indeed, the only school that has no IDTs is Sycamore, ranked fourth. I would suggest that this has more to do with capacity than desire.  Sycamore is a popular school and, appropriately, spaces are allocated to district families first.

When I look at the table, I see more of a desire to fill empty seats than some purposeful distribution of students. (I cannot imagine the uproar from Claremont families if they were denied a place in the school of their choice because the seat was taken by an IDT!)

About filling seats: Ultimately, our elementary students will end up at Claremont High School. In order to have comprehensive programs, a high school needs about 2,200 students. This allows for cost-efficient offerings of multiple language, arts, math and science courses, as well as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate offerings.  These types of classes are no longer luxuries. They are necessities in order for our students to get into college.

Filling the seats of Claremont High School with students who have come up through Claremont schools means we’ll have kids who are prepared for the rigors of high school and that they’ll be participating members of our community, not merely “transfer students.” Students who feel included and identify with their schools have increased success rates, ultimately raising high school graduation and college matriculation numbers.

With respect to the “trailer classroom” added at Sycamore: There is a new upper-grade portable at Sycamore, which would allow more kids access to this desired campus.

Last spring, the school installed another portable and was finally able to move its library/media center out of its “temporary” home in the multi-purpose room and lobby. For decades, Sycamore went without a proper library. Bookshelves and furniture had to be pushed to the side when the room was needed as an auditorium.

In full disclosure, I am an architect who designs schools. I have designed elementary, middle and high schools for 25 years. I have worked in the poorest of districts and the wealthiest of them, both public and private. I know what a 21st century learning environment looks like. I have seen how access to the proper facilities can transform the teaching and learning experience.

When I visit my children’s schools and classrooms, I am appalled at how they compare with what is provided in the rest of the state. My kids have visited other schools with me and for school-related activities. They’ve expressed disbelief at the way these facilities compare with their own classroom and school campuses.

Frankly, the $58 million the district is asking for is nowhere near what is really needed to bring our schools into line with facilities existing in other districts up and down the state. That $58 million will do little more than repair some of our existing outdated infrastructure.

The world is moving on. When I read the article by Mr. Pocock, I see an argument for what worked in the past. With this viewpoint, I fear that we may, or have already, become victims of our own success and will find ourselves not on the cutting edge, but on the cutting room floor in the future.



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