Interview with Tom Silva, School Facilities Planning Coordinator,
San Diego County Office of Education

The physical environment of any school campus or learning space needs careful planning if educational goals and student engagement are to be accomplished. The best method for attaining successful learning environments that support educational goals is to develop an Educational Specification. Educational Specifications articulate a district’s educational philosophy, approach, programs, and goals and translates them into facility design guidelines and criteria for both new and existing facilities. Ongoing research suggests a correlative relationship between the conditions and design of school facilities and behavior, culture, and learning. A collaborative Educational Specification development process provides the opportunity to create learning environments that will facilitate the district’s and the community’s desired learning experience for their students, preparing them for success in the 21st century.

The development process includes involvement from a broad base of stakeholders including instructional and administrative staff, parents, students, community members, and the facilities team in interactive workshops. One of the first steps in the development process is having the committee articulate Design Guiding Principles or Core Values for the district’s cultural and physical learning environments. These principles then guide the decision-making throughout the planning and construction process to ensure that decisions and prioritization are based on shared common values. The committee explores the general elements of the physical environment needed to support the Guiding Principles and learning activities. The Educational Specification generally includes:

// Ideal sizes of schools for each grade configuration

// General design guidelines relating to safety and security, circulation, sustainability, and community use

// Spaces (and sizes of those spaces) needed to support identified learning activities and social development

// Attributes and functions of the spaces, both interior and exterior

// Ideal relationships between the spaces on a campus

Once the Educational Specifications are developed, the document goes to the district Board of Education for approval. Educational Specifications for facility projects are required by CA Code of Regulations Title 5, Section 14001(a) and 14030(a) and also CSBA Board Policy 7100.

Resources: The California Department of Education has a valuable resource titled, “Educational Specifications Linking Design of School Facilities to Educational Program.”

Download Educational Specifications (and Stuff): Speaking the Same Language presentation by HMC’s Mary Morris