Articles in the School Buildings category

Evidence mounting K-8 model works best, but space and funds remain flat

untitled1Does your community have middle or junior high schools? A new Columbia University study suggests your students might do better academically if you switched to K-8 schools.

That assumes, of course, your school board can afford to make policy decisions based on research rather than available classroom space.

Even before this recent study, some school districts were big fans of K-8 schools. It’s increasingly accepted that the elementary school model works well for young adolescents, who are not always developmentally ready for the more regimented and anonymous structure of middle or junior high school.

What’s more, studies have shown that some students show a drop in test scores after their transition to a new school. A K-8 set-up eliminates one of those transitions.

The Columbia University study certainly backs that up. How and Why Middle Schools Harm Student Achievement found that students entering New York middle schools suffered a drop in math and English test scores in their first year, compared to students who attended a K-8 school. Absenteeism also was higher in middle schools.

Naomi Dillon|September 2nd, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Educational Research, School Buildings, School Climate, Student Achievement|Tags: , |

Emerging trends in education becoming more entrenched workplace imagesIn less than a week, the September edition of ASBJ will appear online, bringing with it a dynamic cover package on the phenomenon, promise and peril of the school turnaround from my esteemed colleagues, Del Stover and Larry Hardy. While equally intriguing, my assignment was a little more nebulous: look into the future and forecast  the issues that will become increasingly critical and impactful for educators, districts and schools.

You’ll have to wait until next week to get the full scoop (though if you’re a print subscriber, you’ve already read, re-read, and highlighted sections of our latest installment). But I can’t resist gleefully showcasing how accurate one of my predictions was.

Ok, ok. I admit, I’m not some super seer, with visions of the future, so please don’t call me to ask whether your upcoming bond referendum will pass. I am, however, a keen observer. And after following months and months of news articles and speaking to various individuals, I determined … our economy isn’t doing so well. Ok, bad joke but the recession-out-of-recession-back-into-recession economy is and will continue to be a predictor of future decisions.

Take for example, the burgeoning practice of partnerships and consolidation. In my article I listed several examples of districts and states joining forces to get better deals, more efficiency, and more leverage. Yet even I hadn’t imagined all the ways and manner in which educators can come together to get a big job done on a restricted budget.

Naomi Dillon|August 18th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, School Buildings|Tags: , , , , |

Historic site preservation in L.A.

Los Angeles Unified, known for racking up some of the largest bills for school construction projects in history, has a new project at the top of its chart.

The project to build schools on the site of the former Ambassador Hotel—a historic icon where Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated—is now estimated to cost more than $578 million, according to the Los Angeles Times. The K-12 campus was more recently redesigned after construction began to include a handful of small schools.

Part of the gigantic price tag went for preservation of a handful of the most prized features of the once-luminous hotel, but other factors were the cost of the site’s premier location on Wilshire Boulevard. and years of legal wrangling with developers (including Donald Trump, who wanted the land to build the world’s tallest building).


Kathleen Vail|August 2nd, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, NSBA Publications, School Buildings|

New on

Every school district will take a different path to green. While some will take a districtwide commitment, utilizing environmentally-friendly practices from the ground up in building construction, others will tackle specific areas like energy management, indoor air quality or cleaning practices. No matter your approach, the gains and savings yielded by becoming more planet conscious can still add up in significant ways, says Rachel Gutter, director of the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council. Read Gutter’s advice and examples of district’s that started small, big and in between on the path to green. But hurry, it’s free here only for a limited time.

Naomi Dillon|June 8th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, NSBA Publications, School Buildings|

Climate, not cameras, a remedy for student violence

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I hate security cameras. So it really irritated me to read this week that Philadelphia schools chief Arlene Ackerman decided to install 126 security cameras inside troubled South Philadelphia High School.

It made me sad to learn that several other Philly high schools already have 100+ cameras looking over students’ shoulders.

Two things irk me about security cameras in schools. First, it’s a sign that the dangers of Big Brother did not diminish with the end of the Cold War.

Second—and a more practical argument—security cameras don’t discourage hotheaded kids from turning to violence. It just makes video of any incident available for broadcast on the evening news.

 I can understand why Ackerman thinks she had to act. In December, racial unrest led to several incidents—the most notable when African-American and Asian students clashed, with some groups of students allegedly going from room to room to target students for attack.


Kathleen Vail|May 13th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Discipline, School Buildings, School Climate, School Security|

New on

Congratulations! Your district has made a committment to green its schools. But before you dive headfirst into the new recycling bins, you need a clear plan on how you are going to go from status quo to environmental hero.  In an ASBJ exclusive, Rachel Gutter, director of the U.S. Green Building Council’s education sector, explains why mapping out your district’s green vision and sharing it with the community is an important step in promoting sustainability — for the plan and the planet. Read Gutter’s advice now online for a limited time.

Naomi Dillon|December 10th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, NSBA Publications, School Buildings|Tags: |

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|
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