Articles in the School Buildings category

Apperance of books, libraries may change, but contents remain the same

stockvault_21326_20091028At 51, I’m one of the few people my age who can boast of using an old-fashioned dip pen and inkwell in elementary school. Who remembers sitting at the back of a frigid classroom in winter, while the teacher snuggled up at the front of the room beside a cast-iron, pot-bellied stove.

Who had to put on a coat and shiver while doing his private business in the unheated, roofless school bathroom on the other side of the lawn.

Ah, nostalgia. Old memories are always so rosy . . . and boring to everyone else.

But my tiptoeing down Memory Lane and a Normal Rockwell youth might help you understand why I occasionally find disconcerting the growing technology in our schools.

Oh, I’m resigned to the fact that the Ticonderoga pencil is losing out to the computer keyboard. I’m not surprised that, instead of wielding a stub of chalk, today’s students fiddle about with large-screen, electronic “smart boards.”

Mind you, I still have a problem with the widespread use of the calculator. When it comes to basic everyday math, I’ve noticed at the grocery store I can calculate my change faster than the young clerk can read the screen of today’s electronic cash registers.

But what really leaves me queasy is the idea that the school library is on the brink of historic change—some even talk of its demise.

Naomi Dillon|November 5th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, School Buildings|

Harnessing the power of 21st century skills in building design

Why is “critical thinking” considered a 21st century skill?

If you really think about it–no pun intended–hasn’t “critical thinking’ been around for centuries?

Before we think about 21st century skills, we should understand the technologies and learning styles that the Millennial generation is accustomed to, says David McDiarmid, a senior consultant with the Sextant Group, a technology and audiovisual communications consulting group, who presented at the Council of Educational Facility Planners International conference here this week.

These students, for instance, do not respond well to the traditional, lecture-style classroom, with rows of desks and an electronic whiteboard at the front. They expect to be connected 24-7, McDiarmid adds, and they’re less open and receptive to specific boundaries, such as a schedule and specific place and time for learning.

That said, designing classrooms to best harness their style requires educators and facility planners to be open-minded. Since 21st century skills often incorporate project-based curricula, a classroom should be configured to allow for group settings, with furniture that can be arranged in small groups around the perimeter, and of course with enough plugs so that every student can use a laptop.

Electronic whiteboards should have the capabilities to be rotated 90 degrees–picture a group of elementary-age students sitting in a circle with pages of a book projected in the middle.

Virtual learning will continue to expand, and more students will take use online classes to give them the flexibility of learning on their schedule.

Naomi Dillon|September 30th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, School Buildings|

Where does it STEM from?

1009ASBJIt’s another crisis in America, again impacting the country’s competitiveness in the world, and requiring education to step up and meet the challenge.

The push for more STEM curriculum or science, technology, math, and engineeering  instruction in schools is the latest calamity and call to action. It’s also the cover package of October’s ASBJ.

You’ll have to read my colleague, Larry Hardy’s story to get an overview of the issue and whether this really is a crisis.

In doing research and reporting for the accompanying sidebars, however, I discovered there really is some validity to the “crisis” designation— and its buried in the ground.

Game simulations, video conferencing, online learnings— schools have myriad new technology applications available today, enabling to make instruction in STEM subjects (any subjects for that matter) more relevant, dynamic, and customizable to each student.

Problem is, you can’t really access those applications unless you have the technological infrastructure to support them.

Naomi Dillon|September 28th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, School Buildings|Tags: , , , , , |

Finding the green to go green


A few days ago I was asked to participate on a panel at a conference held by the U.S. Green Building Council, the people who certify schools and other buildings that are built with environmentally friendly principles. And as these things tend to go, I learned as much from the audience as they did from me.

Almost everyone told me they had tried to contact their school board members. What became clear after a few conversations was that school board members are often skeptical, and in this case, many either did not have a construction or renovation project in the works or did not see the need to learn about sustainable designs and practices.

But they should, we agreed: Building green has become a no-brainer for school districts. Green, or sustainable, school designs shouldn’t cost significantly more, and lower operating costs will ultimately save money. And perhaps most compelling is that there is a growing body of research that shows students and staff who spend their days in these school buildings are healthier, miss fewer days of school, and actually learn more.

Not to mention that these buildings have a minimal impact on their environment, and their features can be used as teaching tools.

One person told me about a presentation on green schools he’d given recently at a statewide meeting of school administrators. His show was hijacked, he said, by the school officials who had built green schools for their communities and wanted to convince the skeptics of those benefits.

What many people don’t realize is that you don’t even need to build a new school to take advantage of some of the best green designs. Most older buildings can be retrofitted with features like solar panels, energy-efficient windows that let in more daylight (one of the factors that has been linked with better student performance) and ventilation systems that allow better indoor air quality, a key factor in reducing flare-ups of asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Here at ASBJ, we want to help you learn about sustainable designs and how to incorporate those into both new buildings and renovations of existing facilities. Join us tomorrow, Sept. 24, at 2 p.m. EDT for a webinar  that will feature Rachel Gutter of the USGBC, who will explain the benefits of green, and John Gayetsky and Kathy Prosser, environmental specialists with the Association of School Business Officials International, who will explain how to use these principles to improve and maintain your facilities. We’ll even tell you how to find new sources of money to do so.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|September 23rd, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, Multimedia and Webinars, School Buildings, School Climate, Student Achievement|

Should you wait to build your new school?



 I’m feeling a bit duped.

Three years ago, when I was writing about school construction, experts were saying that school districts needed to hurry up and build before prices rose any further. Back then, there seemed to be no limit to how high the prices of construction materials would go, contractors were in high demand, and enrollments in many districts just kept rising.

Turns out, you would have saved a lot of money—and perhaps headaches–if you’d just waited.

With the fall of the economy, construction prices have plummeted, contractors are begging for work, and some districts that had projected years of enrollment growth are seeing families leave because they lost their jobs. Also, there are a bunch of new federal grants and incentives for energy efficiency and green building, both new construction and renovations.

It’s absolutely maddening, but the lesson learned is that good planning is crucial. Regardless of the economy, schools should be able to project what their enrollments will be in five, 10, or 15 years and which areas of the district are seeing growth or decline in school-age populations. And those plans, we now know, must be flexible enough to accommodate sudden and unexpected shifts like some we’ve seen in recent months.

The one thing I’ve learned from personal experience recently—after spending three years looking for the perfect house and trying to decide on the best time to sell an investment property—is that predicting the market is impossible. What matters most is what’s right for your district—if you need a new school and can raise the necessary funds, build it now. If you don’t need more space, or don’t have the cash in hand, don’t do it. You may still get a good, or better, deal a few years from now.

Regardless of your situation, it helps tremendously to know what’s happening in the construction industry and know the best design features for new schools, so you’ll be prepared when the time comes to build or renovate. Fortunately for my family, my obsession with the real estate market here in Northern Virginia helped me find a great house at a greatly reduced price. We know its value could decline if the economy goes down further, but we also know it’s the right fit for us for the next few years.

With that in mind, ASBJ’s October issue is chock-full of advice on how to plan and build schools that will fit your district for the foreseeable future, and how to best harness the ups and downs of this crazy economy we’re in. And be sure to tune in to our webinar, “Facilities and Construction Money: Where to Find It,” co-hosted with our friends at the Association of School Business Officials International, on Sept. 24. For registration and more information, go to here.

 Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|September 16th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Multimedia and Webinars, School Buildings|

Simple steps lead to big savings for Nevada’s largest district

Warning: the actions of Nevada’s Clark County district will probably lead to a, “duh, why didn’t I think of that” moment.

In recent years the district has saved millions by turning off lights, appliances, air conditioning, and pretty much anything else that saps electricity while schools are closed. That’s something a lot of schools have been doing, as energy costs have risen and a growing awareness of the environmental impact has caused people to change their behaviors.

But Clark County has gone a step further— actually unplugging those appliances. It’s a small step that Dick Cuppert, the district’s energy manager, believes will save the district another $250,000 this summer, according to the Las Vegas Sun

Apparently, appliances like coffee pots or lamps still use a small amount of electricity when they are plugged in, and that miniscule usage adds up for a massive district like Clark County.

The district has a comprehensive energy savings program that includes simple steps such as installing motion-sensor light switches and cutting off lights in vending machines.

Naomi Dillon|July 8th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, School Buildings|Tags: , , |

Going green to save some green

I’m cheap.

It’s a value that was instilled in me at an early age, from my mother and grandmother, who knew how to make a dollar stretch as far as it could-because it had to. My bargain-shopping drives my husband crazy sometimes, but he loves to brag as much as I do that I spent only $10 on my wedding dress at an upscale department store.

I don’t like to waste stuff, either, and I’d like to leave this planet in at least decent shape for future generations. That’s why I think the movement to go green may be the silver lining to this ongoing economic downturn.

Environmentalism has been around for years-I wrote my first story about a “green school” nearly 10 years ago, and it wasn’t a new trend even then. But I think what’s really pushing schools to look at green solutions is the cost savings, both in the short and long term.

What has changed in the past decade is the cost of going green. It used to be more expensive to build schools with energy saving features or purchase environmentally friendly cleaning products. Now the rising demand has lowered the prices of many materials and products. Energy costs have risen, too, and that’s one area in a budget where you can almost always find savings without cutting classroom programs. And the savings in the long run make it a no-brainer. 

We looked at the green schools movement in our April issue,  and profiled several school districts that had taken different approaches to sustainability. One had saved more than $1 million by hiring an energy consultant, another district profits from selling recyclable goods while instilling environmental values to its students.

Since the demand for green products and green construction is increasing, especially now that the federal stimulus money is being doled out, we’ll continue to follow the trends and bring you more ideas to save money and save the environment.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Naomi Dillon|May 13th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, School Buildings|Tags: , , , |

Green movement helps save the environment and could save you cash, too

A couple weeks ago, our facility manager sent an email to all staff members, imploring anyone who had suggestions on how to reduce building costs to send it his way. Like all organizations and companies nationwide, finding opportunities to streamline operations and reduce costs has become of utmost importance.

Our building manager had already implemented several cost-cutting measures, his most notable and visual change being the installation of motion sensor lights, which not only saved us money but reduced our energy consumption.

Environmental consciousness, as a movement, has ebbed and flowed over the years. But it seems to have picked up steam lately, thanks to not only  a new administration but, ironically, a poor economy.

The recession is forcing everyone to be innovative in how they use materials, time, and energy;  propelling the green movement (as it is as often called) into a viable and lucrative approach to preserving budgets, while preserving nature.

April’s edition of ASBJ features a package of stories on this emerging trend, including a look at how environmentally-friendly practices have altered construction, curriculum, and behaviors.

Indeed, in my piece about green technology, I interviewed a number of school districts in various stages of implementation, and all of them agreed that changing behaviors was the hardest and most important part of employing any new technology. 

So check out our spread on the green movement and how you could implement it in your schools.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|March 30th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Educational Technology, Policy Formation, School Buildings|

Districts take paring knife to microwaves, fridges in classroom

The economy is really starting to hit teachers where it hurts: Schools are beginning to ban such innocuous personal items as coffee pots, refrigerators, and microwave ovens from classrooms.

At first glance, such measures appear petty and punitive. It’s not as if a teacher can take a break and walk down to the employee lounge for his or her morning jolt of java.

But there is method to this madness. All these personal appliances use electricity-and it’s not chump change. That’s what officials found out in Volusia County, Fla., where a survey revealed the presence of more than 1,000 such appliances in classrooms. The electricity needed to power all of them was costing the school system an estimated half-a-million dollars annually.

Meanwhile, California’s smaller Glendale Unified School District expects to save $60,000 a year by banning personal appliances from classrooms.

Numerous other districts are banning such classroom appliances, and needless to say, teachers aren’t too happy. Some say they have no time to leave their classroom for the food and refreshments that other professionals take for granted.

“I teach bell to bell, every day,” Pat Rabe, a math teacher at California’s Crescenta Valley High School, told the Los Angeles Times. “And when we don’t have access to these [appliances] immediately, we don’t eat.”

Of course, it’s tough to eat if you get laid off, too. So some teachers are resigned to the budgetary realities of 2009. And others have worked out a pay-as-you-go approach: The Jurupa Unified School District, east of Los Angeles, has agreed to allow classroom appliances next year for a charge, the Times says. What’ll it cost teachers: $40 for refrigerators, $10 for microwaves, and $10 for coffee pots.

That’s still a bargain compared to Starbucks.

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|March 5th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, School Buildings|Tags: , |

Congress moves closer to a deal, that leaves out school construction funding

Well, it looks like Congress is moving closer to approving a stimulus package by the Dem’s self-imposed President’s Day holiday. But as the Washington Post reports, the original proposal has undergone a series of cuts and modifications, with two specific provisions still meeting resistance from the GOP.

And you guessed it. One of them is about schools. Deteriorating schools. Outdated schools. Crowded schools. Inadequate schools.  That’s what Republican congressmen who oppose providing roughly $20 billion in school construction funding should have to say. Then maybe it would be harder to justify why spending the cash to bring schools into the 21st century, while putting people to work, and reducing district energy dependence is a bad idea.

Sure, everyone has their hand out and is making the case why they deserve to get a piece of the stimulus package. But consider this:

The U.S. Green Building Council estimates that by improving energy efficiency, $20 billion could be saved in energy bills over the next decade. A recent study out of New Jersey finds that for every $1 billion spent on school construction and repair, 9,000 new jobs are created. More examples like this can be found in a brief prepared by the National School Boards Association.

Despite all of the convincing arguments, however, it doesn’t look likely that funding will be restored in the plan, meaning Philadelphia schools will lose $212 million, while Los Angeles Unified stands to lose out on $436 million. Use this interactive chart to find out, how much your district will lose in funding.

It’s a shortsightedness in Congress that will have a lasting impact on education and our competitiveness in the world market.

By the way, the other sticking point that’s holding up a finalized deal on the stimulus package? Medicaid payments to states. So the youngest and the oldest generation will both be shafted in the new New Deal.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|February 13th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, School Buildings|Tags: , |
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