By John Nichols, AIA, LEED AP, Pre-K–12 Practice Leader
School districts throughout California have made the challenging transition to the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and corresponding Local Control Accountability Program (LCAP) last year, and are continuing to refine their understanding and approach going forward. While the primary focus of supplemental and concentration grant spending appears to be on programs and resources to help the underserved students they were intended for, the facilities improvements to support the new instructional delivery approaches do not appear on the LCAP radar screen in most districts. Many districts have been able to reinvest in their maintenance programs after years of underfunding, but only to levels that might achieve “good repair” or address “Williams Act” deficiencies. With the emergence of the LCFF dynamic, we have seen a depletion of funding for facilities at the State level. In addition to local general obligation bonds and developer fees, districts are challenged with garnering all of the resources needed to address their ongoing facility needs. If the best student improvement outcomes for underserved students are to be realized in this new funding era, by which educational program tailored facilities have proven to enable, a greater collaboration between facilities and instructional leaders is needed than ever before.
One of the less favorable ramifications of the LCFF funding approach, at least for the time being, is that it can pit labor, programs and facilities against one another in competition for limited resources. All three have suffered from underfunding over the past five years, but facilities advocates are clearly the underdog in the fight for funding. The onus is on facilities directors to form and strengthen the bond with their instructional leaders, so that everyone values the inexorable connection between programs and the facilities that support them. The strategy needs to move from that of an “either/or” funding battle, to a “both/and” collaborative approach. When instructional leaders are standing shoulder to shoulder with facilities leaders, and advocating for facilities improvements (beyond good repair) that will compliment and optimize their program delivery, we will achieve sustainable success.
We all recognize that a good teacher can deliver any program to any group of underserved students out of an old portable classroom, and achieve reasonably successful outcomes. Likewise, we also know that if we place that same teacher and students in a modern learning space, configured and equipped to support the educational program, they will achieve even greater success. There are many different instructional delivery models that have emerged in the last decade to address challenges in serving an increasingly diverse generation of students.
The following is a listing of LCFF requirements and educational models, along with a brief description of the facilities implications to physically support these models.
Class Size Reduction in K-3 Grades
LCFF requirements call for a 24:1 student/teacher ratio for grades K-3 by the year 2020. For a hypothetical K-6 grade elementary school of 700 students, up to 4 additional classrooms will be needed assuming a current loading ratio of 32:1. Other enrollment swings need to be accounted for that could impact the need for additional classrooms either up or down. Districts have an opportunity to configure and equip these new learning spaces in ways that can pilot improved environments for the rest of the campus and district.
Education Pathways associated with Linked Learning and Career and Technical Themes
Creating a clear roadmap for students and families to navigate their public education opportunity can make a significant difference in situations of poverty, language barriers and foster care. Defining that roadmap, or pathway, in the context of possible career opportunities provides relevance to core curriculum studies, and helps to get students excited about what and why they are learning. There are great opportunities to create project-based studios in outdated shop spaces or home economics labs and turn those adjacent barren spaces between buildings into outdoor learning landscapes centered on the theme of individual pathways at each school.
Small, Contiguous, Learning Communities
Taking the Pathway, Linked Learning, and CTE model one step further on secondary school campuses, teams of interdisciplinary teachers serving groups of 400-500 students can be clustered in zones on larger campuses along with related administrative and support staff. These zones can be centered around satellite administrative support spaces, special studio labs and outdoor learning spaces and branded to celebrate their unique themes. This gives students, especially underserved students, a stronger sense of belonging and identity and a closer relationship with teachers and support staff. High schools that have implemented this model in an authentic manner over the last decade have seen 15-20% increases in graduation rates, comprised largely of underserved students.
Learning Center at Spangler Elementary School, Milpitas USD
Common Core and Project-Based Learning
Starting with math and English, instructional delivery is shifting from an emphasis on memorizing to one of synthesizing and applying. Working in small teams to encourage collaboration and communication skills, teachers are helping students use critical thinking and creativity to make connections and apply their knowledge to solve real world problems. These activities demand greater flexibility in both indoor and outdoor learning environments. Moveable furniture and equipment, interior partitions, roll-up exterior doors, activity patios, wireless technology, and project and portfolio storage areas are just a few examples of facilities design solutions to support this educational emphasis.
In addition to funding ongoing maintenance and repair of each school, the facilities improvements outlined above can be a very large financial investment for any district. If 2-3% of annual general fund revenues are needed to support “good repair,” easily double of that amount would be required to fund just the basic educational enhancement initiatives. At best, LCFF resources can only be a piece of the facilities improvement funding model. Smart decisions will be required to stretch limited resources to achieve the most impactful outcomes for students. Without any communication between facilities and instructional leaders, it is clear that little in the way of additional LCFF dollars will be allocated to upgrade school facilities beyond good repair. Understanding specific facilities strategies that compliment instructional programs will enable facilities leaders to contribute to an informed dialogue with district leaders and other stakeholders to get the opportunities out on the table for consideration.