Fall 2001 Newsletter
Local Government Commission Recommends "Neighborhood-Based"
In this soon to be printed Local Government Commission report
entitled "New Schools In Older Neighborhoods" principal
writer Ann Kauth juxtaposes the unprecedented need our state's
school system will face with the equally needed amount of revitalization
our urban neighborhoods will need. The paper's recommendaton:
maximize public resources by utilizing schools as multi-purpose
tools for neighborhood revitalization. NSBN is pleased to excerpt
a portion of this upcoming paper which espouses the need, the
opportunity and the necessity of thinking creatively when planning
for our state's school facilities.
By: Ann Kauth, Local Government Commission
In the next few years, America's school system will have to
grow at an unprecedented rate to meet a significant increase in
school age population. Enrollment from 2000 to 2006 is expected
to increase by one million students, according to U.S. Department
of Education estimates. To meet this tremendous enrollment growth,
communities across the country will need to both build new schools
and renovate or rebuild old, outdated facilities.
There are additional challenges. In many school districts, small
maintenance budgets and subsequent deferred maintenance strategies
have accelerated the decline of older school facilities and the
need for updated and/or new facilities has become critical.
As a result of these various factors, thousands of schools across
the country need to be built and renovated. Borne out of necessity,
this building boom can provide the opportunity for a "Golden
Age of School Design", according to a 2000 U.S. Department
of Education report.
The full potential of this opportunity depends on what kind of
schools we build. We can build energy-efficient schools with state-of-the-art
technology. We can build schools with materials that require much
less maintenance, making them more cost-effective in the long
run. We can choose to build schools with interior features that
increase brain activity and respiration and reduce muscle tension
and blood pressure; healthy features that make our schools better
places for students to learn and educators to teach.
As communities look for innovative ways to create these technologically
advanced, cost-effective and healthy schools, we also have a golden
opportunity to build neighborhood-based schools--schools, which,
research shows, provide a better education for our children, nurture
their emotional and physical health, and improve the general health
of our communities at the same time.
The Need for "Neighborhood-Based" Schools
Over the past 30 years, most new schools have been built in suburban
school districts. They are large, one-story facilities on large
plots of land located on the fringe of urban development. School
districts have been lured by these "mega-schools", believing
that they are more cost effective. However, there is renewed interest
in returning to smaller, neighborhood-based schools. There are
many reasons for this:
Small Schools Are Better
There is mounting evidence that smaller schools provide a better
quality education than large ones. "A higher percentage of
students, across all socioeconomic levels, are successful when
they are part of smaller, more intimate learning communities,"
says a recent U.S. Department of Education study. "Security
improves and violence decreases, as does student alcohol and drug
abuse. Small school size encourages teachers to innovate and students
to participate, resulting inŠhigher grades and test scores,
improved attendance rates, and lowered dropout rates." Educators
differ on the subject of the optimal size of these small schools
but most agree that they should house between 300 and 900 students.
Push for Schools to Serve Multiple Purposes
All over the US, educators and community leaders are advocating
for community schools--schools that not only educate children,
but meet other community needs as well. Neighborhood-based schools
are best positioned to serve multiple purposes because they are
located in a community.
Maximize Public Resources
There is also a push for schools to be more cost effective by
utilizing other public/private resources. For example, schools
can partner with park districts to use a city park to fulfill
their playground requirements or use a YMCA gymnasium instead
of having to build one as part of a school campus. Neighborhood-based
schools are the best suited to use community resources to their
advantage because they are located in a community.
Concerns about the Health of Youth
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
1 in 5 children and 1 in 3 teens are overweight or at risk for
being overweight--a 50-100% increase in just 10 years. Many attribute
this increase in overweight children to the lack of physical activity
that the built environment offers children today. Public health
officials and other walking and bicycling advocates are now pressuring
local government and other officials to change the way we design
and build our communities to promote more physical activity. One
such change they advocate is the expansion of neighborhood-based
schools and "safe routes to school."
There is a growing "smart growth" movement in the country.
Smart growth advocates are pressuring decision-makers to curb
"sprawl" and create less auto-dependent, more walkable
communities. Neighborhood-based schools are considered an essential
part of these livable communities.
More and more community leaders are recognizing the power of
schools to attract and keep residents in a neighborhood. Leaders
in many urban communities across the country are building or renovating
schools as part of broad strategies for revitalizing blighted
Nowhere to Grow
Many school districts have no other choice than to build schools
in established areas because there is simply no new land in their
districts to develop. These school districts are finding atypical
places to put schools: in old strip malls, on top of parking garages,
in small strangely shaped parcels of land, and even in airports.
Barriers To Building In Established Areas
While many circumstances exist that are causing districts to
build and/or modernize schools in established areas, there are
many barriers to doing this.
Building Standards, Codes & Regulations
School building codes and regulations can work against the building
and renovating of schools in established neighborhoods. Funding,
parking requirements, acreage-to-student ratios and other regulations
often make building schools on smaller plots in already established
neighborhoods difficult. Many older schools also get slated for
demolition rather than renovation because of the difficulty in
complying with school and building code regulations.
Difficulty in Acquiring Land
Many districts, particularly more urban districts, have trouble
finding land that has not been contaminated in some way. In addition,
schools are finding it increasingly difficult to condemn commercial
and residential sites to acquire land. Private property rights,
and the upholding of these rights in courts, make it difficult
for a governmental entity to force land from private owners.
Districts Have Lost the Skill to Build Schools
Some school districts have not built schools in such a long time
that they've simply lost the staff expertise needed to manage
a new school building project, or even a large project to modernize
"Greenfield" Schools Are More Familiar
In some school districts, it isn't that they haven't built schools
in many years, the problem is that they've only built "greenfield"
schools, making it challenging for them to "change their
ways" and build new schools in already established areas.
Conclusion: Neighborhood-Based Schools Well-Positioned
For The Future
Nationwide, school districts and community leaders are beginning
to understand the power that schools have in the life of local
communities and are using neighborhood-based schools strategically
to revitalize and keep communities healthy. Patrick Leier, Superintendent
of the Pomona Unified School District, sees schools as anchors
of mixed-use developments that can spur revitalization efforts
in surrounding areas. In Chattanooga, local government officials
and community leaders are using schools to attract new residents
and bring new life to deteriorated downtown neighborhoods. And,
in Manitowoc, parents, homeowners, and school district staff worked
to keep a school in a neighborhood, to protect homeowners' investments
and to insure that children can walk to school from kindergarten
through high school.
Though in many ways communities are dependent on schools for
stability and vitality, funding trends are going to make schools
more dependent on communities. States will continue to assist
schools with funding, but schools are going to have to reach out
to their local communities for support to supplement, extend and
maximize government funding. For example, in California, school
site selection standards ask districts to select new sites that
"promote joint use of parks, libraries, museums and other
public services." Others are calling on school districts
to make better use of their facilities--renting out classrooms
after hours, letting the community have access to school gyms,
libraries, and kitchens. Some policy-makers even want such joint-uses
to be required for school districts to receive public bond money.
Neighborhood-based schools are in the best position to adapt to
Small, neighborhood-based schools can also provide a better learning
environment for children. Studies show that small schools foster
a greater sense of belonging among children and teachers. Students'
attendance rates, grades and test scores are higher in smaller
schools and violence and drug and alcohol abuse rates are lower
in small school settings. In fact, the relationship between small-sized
schools and positive educational outcomes has been "confirmed
with a clarity and at a level of confidence rare in the annals
of education research," according to a 1999 Hofstra University
review of school size literature. In addition, children can walk
and bike to neighborhood-based schools, giving them more opportunity
to get desperately needed physical activity. And neighborhood-based
schools give parents more opportunity to participate in the education
of their children and the life of a school in general.
Small, neighborhood-based schools are best positioned to respond
to the calls for schools to be more accountable, to be more integrated
into communities, and to be more resource-efficient. Given the
enormous need for new school facilities in the coming decade,
we have a golden opportunity to build small, neighborhood-based,
schools that can enter into a more symbiotic relationship with
their communities, schools that can better educate our children,
and schools that are better for the health of our children and