Facilities strategies for going small

School systems throughout the country are raising challenging questions regarding whether their educational programs and facilities equitably serve all students. Their research consistently points them to the value of small schools. Whether designing new schools, conducting major renovation projects, converting to smaller learning communities by reconfiguring existing space, or adaptively using community facilities, leaders can utilize a number of facilities strategies to capitalize on the benefits of small.


Build small with a new facility.

Many argue that building physically distinct small schools from the ground up is the best way to institute good small schools. Small by design, they are physically autonomous enough to create a sense of community and possibility and when developed with thoughtful attention to educational programming, become wonderful places for personalized learning.

Examples:   >>Truman Education Complex    >>Lionel Wilson Prep Academy    >>Health Professions High School    >>Denver School of Science and Technology    >>Paschal Sherman Indian School  


Build small within a campus of schools.

Some choose to build autonomous small schools on campuses that share common resources such as athletic facilities, food service, auditorium, and/or libraries. Buildings housing each small school are designed to be physically separate (sometimes even to the point of having their own parking lots) to reinforce the notions of autonomy and individual distinction.

Examples:  >>The Met   >>Marysville Getchell High School    >>Marysville Secondary Options Campus   >>High Tech High


Build small as a multiplex.

When new school construction is called for, but it is not logistically, economically, politically, or environmentally possible to build distinctly separate small schools, planners can “ rightsize” by building schools that allow for small autonomous groupings within a larger campus. As an alternative to a sprawling, impersonal, factory-like campus, “small within big” has definite merit.

Example:  >>Todd Beamer Campus   >>Little Village Lawndale High School Campus


Build small to partner with community

A plethora of resources already exist in the community that may be of great benefit to a variety of schools. Partnerships can be established with health clubs, community libraries, parks, and restaurants to provide necessary services to schools. And rather than procuring new land and building new buildings, a variety of school systems are now entering partnerships with existing community organizations.

Examples:  >>Truman Education Complex   >>The Met    >>The Center School   >>Tacoma School of the Arts  >>Rosa Parks Elementary


Build small around variable grade span configurations.

Many who worry that building “small within big” will make it easier to resort back to the large comprehensive school model suggest instead the construction of “span schools” with nontraditional groupings (e.g., K-12, K-8, 6-12) that encourage longstanding relationships and fewer students per grade.

Example: >>Interdistrict Downtown School   >>Paschal Sherman Indian School


Build small through school renovation.

The need for modernization provides a tremendous opportunity to “rightsize” schools; and when funds are available for renovation, planners can make bold architectural gestures toward small school autonomies. Taking advantage of the opportunity of having to temporarily house student populations elsewhere during the renovation, many move small groups to a variety of locations (rather than one large location) so that when the renovation from one large campus to several small schools is complete, the ethos of each is well on the way to being established.

Example: >>Cleveland High School  >> Lincoln High School, Tacoma


Build small through conversions.

Hundreds of schools across the country are converting comprehensive schools into smaller learning communities with existing staff and students. Paying attention to rightsizing principles, they are reconfiguring existing buildings with limited funds to allocate each small school secure and definable space. Their focus is on creating cohesive community that supports the development and growth of a common mission.

Examples: >>Cleveland High School >>Mountlake Terrace High School  >>Monroe High School  >>Lincoln High School, Los Angeles  >>Dorsey High School  >>Southgate High School


Build small through reconstitution

School systems are reconstituting large unsuccessful schools by allowing upperclassmen to graduate and “growing” a number of new small schools with incoming freshman to replace the existing comprehensive student body. While a variety of operational strategies may be employed, care must be given to provide the conditions necessary to support the development of each new small school as an autonomous learning community.

Example:  >>Morris High School 


Build small through charters or pilots

The support of charter and pilot schools can also foster innovation and provide models of positive change. Freed from many bureaucratic constraints, charters are often inventive and responsive to the needs of the students they serve. A number of school systems have collaboratively worked with teacher unions to develop pilot schools (in-district charters) that have been granted freedoms from certain district requirements (e.g., staffing, budgeting, governance, calendar) to enable them to build a unified school focus on improvement of teaching and learning.

Examples: >>The Met   >>Avalon High School    >>High Tech High   >>High School for Recording Arts    >>Millennium High School    >>Aviation High School


Build small through repurposing facilities.

Buildings can be repurposed to provide wonderful places for teaching and learning. For instance, large industrial buildings are often easily converted to smaller schools. Whether a former naval installation, factory, church, or bowling alley, the building can be repurposed to serve as an effective small school.

Examples:  >>High Tech High  >>The Center School   >>Avalon High School    >>Aviation High School   >>Amy Biehl Charter School   >>Tacoma School of the Arts   >>High School for Recording Arts   >>Millennium High School


Build small through "hot-housing."

Many “hothouse” programs start in temporary spaces with the intention of moving the small schools into school buildings once their identity is established. Some use space in underutilized sections of public schools (often of a different age group) within their district. Others negotiate long-term agreements in business parks and warehouses.

Mentoring strategies can also be used, especially when “hothoused” schools are brought back into converted or renovated educational facilities. If firmly established, such “anchor schools” offer the strength of identity that can help secure and anchor the reform for others. Anchor schools often provide stability during the transformation process and model the professional and collaborative practices necessary to develop efficacious small schools. Taking the lead on building-wide issues, anchor school leaders can free up the staff of newer schools to focus on issues of implementation, rather than distracting building operations.

>>Marysville Getchell High School    >>Marysville Secondary Options Campus
>>Julia Richmond Educational Complex