Summary of the High School Educational Specification (2008)
What is an Educational Specification? Every school construction project in Pennsylvania that seeks state reimbursement through the Department of Education's Planning and Construction (PlanCon) process requires an Educational Specification. Beyond collating the spaces required to deliver an the educational program, an Educational Specification defines the characteristics of a sound educational environment – for today’s students and for those in the coming decades.
Because each district has different priorities, an Educational Specification is based on the needs and mission of that particular community as well as the grade level needs of students. An Educational Specification evaluates the buildings and curriculum, in concert, to determine if the structures are in place to support what the community has defined as educational priorities. It’s more than a building plan … it’s an education plan that guides architects, school designers and curriculum planners.
This District's most recent high school Educational Specification was prepared in 2008 as an addition to the District-Wide Facility Master Plan drafted by Educational Planner Dr. William DeJong in 2008-2009. As the district is in the process of revising its model for high school education, the 2008 Educational Specification serves as a foundation for current planning efforts. It will be updated by the design team as educational visioning nears completion.
The 2008 SCASD High School Educational Specification Process: In the fall of 2008, 66 community members met over 4 full days to define and prioritize the needs of current and future high school education in the SCASD. Facilitated by Dr. DeJong, teachers, staff, community members, administrators, board members and students reviewed the successes and challenges facing high school education. Discussion was founded on several points put forth by the committee:
- Based on multiple measures of student success, the State College Area High School can be classified as “high performing” despite its building deficits.
- After 50+ years of use, portions of the current North and South Buildings are nearing the end of their useful life as public school facilities and are in need of renovation.
- Creating flexibility in both the facilities and in our curriculum is a priority for the future.
- A safe, secure and healthy environment is essential to successful learning.
- Technology is and will be an important part of the future of education.
- Practicality, fiscal responsibility and utility (community-wide access beyond the typical school day) are important for any building program, saving taxpayer dollars by reducing duplication of resources.
- In addition to helping students learn, school buildings should create a sense of pride, stewardship and citizenship.
- Schools that “feel small” and “act small,” regardless of the age of the student or the physical size of the building, are important for learning and socialization.
Over the course of discussion, the following deficiencies and challenges were identified in the current North/South configuration:
- ·Education is changing – but no one knows for sure how it will change over the next 40 years.
1. Compromised security and safety. The current “department” configuration encourages students’ travel between departments spread across the campus. There are an excessive number of entry and exit points that cannot be monitored by administration located in a central office. The buildings are not fully compliant with the Americans with Disability Act. Long hallways, extended adult-child sight lines, and the sheer numbers of students who are moving in relatively narrow corridors, slow class changes and depersonalize the school.
2. Lack of collaborative space. Most classrooms in the high school buildings are of a standard size and do not conform to current standards (e.g. science classrooms are approximately 1/3 smaller than the national recommendation). There are very few areas designed for small group conferences, individual tutoring, interdisciplinary collaboration and project-based learning. The Career and Technical Center is not integrated into the building as a whole, limiting use and access. Efforts to implement new and innovative curriculum delivery systems are frustrated by the “traditional” school building.
3. Lack of flexibility. The ability to respond to enrollment changes and proposed curriculum delivery systems is restricted. With fixed masonry walls, long “double loaded” corridors and uniquely designed wings, much of the high school building could not be reconfigured without demolition or major reconstruction. The single story layout creates barriers for cross discipline learning. The physical features of the campus (topography, drainage, and the split created by Westerly Parkway) further limit flexibility. In short, the buildings are not easy to adapt because of the way they are constructed and the physical constraints of the site.
4. Challenges of an urban site. The “in town” high school site on Westerly Parkway site has advantages and disadvantages: It’s easy to reach, it’s the most sustainable, and students can walk to school or town. However, the disadvantages are real. There is little ability to expand or to provide large parking and drop-off areas where they are most desired and most likely to improve safety. Access to nearby rental properties, student housing and commercial businesses can be problematic. The ability to secure the campus is hindered by its proximity to a large residential neighborhood and location on a major thoroughfare.
5. Energy inefficiency. The buildings do not take full advantage of natural lighting, modern ventilation systems, insulation, alternative energy or energy conservation. Energy waste sends a poor message to students and creates pressure on the district’s budget with an ever-growing energy bill.
6. The buildings should serve the community better. The North/South building high school does not effectively address the 24/7 needs of the community or act as a “community center.” The current configuration has limited ability to “zone” areas for public use, wasting energy and making opportunities for continuing education more difficult. The buildings are not ADA compliant and do not work to integrate abilities and disabilities. There are not enough specialized facilities for theatrical, musical and athletic performances and the existing ones are in significant need of repairs. Pre-K, community education, and other community center functions cannot be located in the current buildings.
7. Sprawl is not small. Housing 2400+ students in two centrally organized buildings hampers meaningful interpersonal connections between students, faculty and staff. Cafeterias, hallways, lobbies, common spaces and administrative areas should foster an environment of connection and security. Non-traditional workspace (both smaller and larger instruction areas) is needed. Efforts to create small “learning centers” or “schools within schools” are thwarted by the building inflexibility. Configuring buildings as academic “clusters” creates the small school feeling found in elementary and middle schools, regardless of the actual building size.
8. The future will be compromised by the past. While cosmetic improvements can be made to the current buildings in a “band aid” approach, it is imperative that the high school serve the community’s needs for the next 40 years and beyond. In its current configuration the buildings offer little opportunity for change or growth over time.What are the features of a high school Educational Specification for the State College Area School District?Here is a partial list of key elements:
- Curricular spaces that conform, at a minimum, to current national and state standards for size, layout and instructional requirements.
- Greater availability of small educational spaces for individual and small group instruction, special education, learning enrichment, and project-based learning.
- Decentralized, independent academic units or learning communities where students can spend most of their scholastic time, minimizing traffic flow throughout the buildings. These units should be sufficiently adaptable that they can be configured to respond to a variety of organizational models such as departments, learning academies, teams, houses, or magnet schools. In order to build community, plan for units of approximately 300 students, consistent with the model used in the district’s elementary and middle schools.
- Inclusion of both passive and active safety and security measures such as a reduction in exits, decentralization of administration, shorter hallways and reduced sight lines, and smaller learning communities.
- “Flexibility for the future” to accommodate new educational trends by reducing the use of interior load bearing walls so that future renovation, if necessary, can be completed quickly and cost effectively.
- Organizing the building(s) with utility zones that create separate units for community functions without the need to operate the entire facility. Expanded opportunities for both career instruction and community use by including multi-purpose facilities such as a bank branch or a child care center.
- Co-locating areas that share similar resources. For example, culinary kitchens for academic and career programs should be adjacent to food service areas.
- Integration of career and vocational instruction areas throughout the school to make best use of technology, to facilitate project-based learning and to further incorporate academic and technological dual learning.
- To meet the high performance and sustainable building standards that have been established by the district, buildings should be certified at the silver level using the United States Green Building Council’s “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” (LEED) criteria.