By T. R. Dunlap

Nobody should underestimate the importance of careful planning when schools engage in any operation or initiative. While many of us are eager to take an idea and run with it, the academic literature and case studies frequently remind us that planning cannot be ignored.  The research has indicated that the quality of a school's site-based plan is crucial to ensure positive implementation outcomes (Strunk, Marsh, Bush-Mecenas, & Duque, 2016), and other planning initiatives are equally invaluable. Whether a school is looking to build, expand, consolidate, or make changes in their operations, is it best to produce a planning document to clearly identify steps and describe the vision to others. Cook (2001) describes the important components in developing effective plans in his book Strategics: beliefs, mission, parameters, strengths, weaknesses, organizational design, competition, external analysis, critical issues, objectives, strategies, and priority actions.  These considerations can act as a template when educational planners begin their work to plan the future of their facility.

Facility planning for schools is a dynamic and challenging venture.  As educational planners, we have to be aware of the many stakeholders and competing interest involved in our planning initiatives. Whether you're an experienced planner or new to the enterprise of facility planning, the Education Facilities Clearinghouse (EFC) has been working to supply you with useful resources for your work. Our library and training tools feature some helpful planning document, and we've produced a video series on the important aspects of facility planning.  Educational facilities planning should include 5 major planning documents: educational facilities master plan, capital improvement plan, maintenance plan, energy and environmental management plan, and a safety and emergency operations plan.  To learn more watch the first video in our series on Education Facilities Planning.

To view the entire series, click here.

State and federal mandates for school systems require us to develop meaningful plans to establish vision and direction and demonstrate accountability with those in the community and governing authorities.  Federal mandates have also come with capacity building initiatives to help school leaders create and maintain effective plans.  For example, in light of the demands for schools to be ready in the event of emergency, the federal departments of State, Homeland Security, Justice, and Health and Human Services, along with the FBI and FEMA jointly produced the Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Planswhich is housed on the EFC website, to help schools establish a planning protocol and develop meaningful planning documents.  Similarly, the EFC has also been established by a federal grant to supply schools with technical assistance as school leaders begin and operate in the planning process.  As your school has need of help in planning activities, keep in mind the many resources that are available.

For additional planning resources, click here.

 

References

Cook, W. J. (2000). Strategics: the art and science of holistic strategy. Westport, Conn.: Quorum Books.

Strunk, K. O., Marsh, J. A., Bush-Mecenas, S. C., & Duque, M. R. (2016). The best laid plans an examination of school plan quality and implementation in a school improvement initiative. Educational Administration Quarterly, 52(2), 259–309.

Coalition for Healthier Schools, 2016.

Healthy schools help children grow and learn. But providing children with healthy places to learn is too often an afterthought—or not thought of at all. School facilities have been neglected for decades. Towards Healthy Schools: Reducing Risks to Children is the fourth in a series of triennial state of the states’ reports

from Healthy Schools Network and its partners in the Coalition for Healthier Schools, dating from 2006. Previous reports assessed state-by-state environmental health hazards at schools, offered compelling personal narratives from parents and teachers, and provided data needed to assess the subsequent impact on children’s health. The last report, Towards Healthy Schools 2015, went deeper into specific issues such as asthma, and fracking and well water, while also using federal poverty statistics—e.g., the number of children in a school eligible for free or reduced-price meals—as a proxy for poverty and to highlight essential inequities and injustices. It also highlighted how greener, cleaner, healthier schools promote attendance and achievement. Yet, no state publishes information regarding children at risk due to school and/or child care center environmental hazards. To drive home the national scope of the hidden environmental health crisis faced by children, this new report features published media reports on environmental conditions from every state in the nation. From Alabama, where Bay Minette parents threatened to keep their children home to avoid exposing them to asbestos, to Wyoming, where grass fires endangered students at South High, it is a disturbing summary, highlighting the fact that across the country teachers, parents, and guardians, and the children themselves, face numerous and serious unexamined and unaddressed risks to health and learning which are rarely acknowledged by public agencies.

by Angel Ford, Ed.D.

In previous blogs, I have frequently discussed the inequities of school building conditions across America. This blog will also talk about those inequities in light of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Let’s start by examining what ESSA states about educational facilities.

A search of the ESSA bill reveals very few mentions of school facilities. Charter school facilities are mentioned a number of times as well as the school facilities for students residing on Native American reservations. There is a mention of facility management in the context of community schools, and we also learn from the bill how federal dollars will be allocated for technology upgrades in schools, but these funds cannot be used to retrofit the built environment to accommodate improved technology. Beyond these considerations, there is no comprehensive plan to address school facilities.

While ESSA does not directly address the inequities of school building conditions, U.S. Secretary of Education John King repeatedly makes a clarion call for equity in education. Mr. King has emphasized that ESSA can be used to achieve equitable outcomes. However, there is little clarity from reading the actual bill to indicate how ESSA will approach facility conditions for all students. School facilities are a key element of this country’s educational infrastructure, and yet, the condition of school buildings and classrooms are very inequitable. Over half of the school buildings are in need of repair to even be considered in satisfactory condition (NCES, 2014).

In his address to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Secretary King (2016a) stated that many students still have “less access to the resources necessary to thrive.” Although, at the time, he did not discuss directly the built environment, evidence suggests that adequate school building conditions and design are a crucial resource for all students. Secretary King (2016b) has also said, “persistent opportunity gaps undermine equality.” I couldn’t agree more! I would like to challenge education stakeholders to think about the unequal condition of our school buildings as a contributing factor that causes opportunity gaps.

Tanner (2015) conducted a meta-analysis of dissertations related to the effects of educational facilities. This study examined how school facilities correlate with student outcomes. He found that many factors of the built learning environment have statistically significantly relationships with student outcomes. These building factors include, but are not limited to, the quality and availability of natural light; design aspects such as quiet spaces, display spaces, green spaces, and storage spaces; climate control; and the overall condition of the school building.

Under ESSA, each state’s department of education will determine its implementation of the law, and every state will need to examine whether or not they are meeting the call for greater equity in education. Those of us concerned with the state of school facilities should make a strong effort to increase awareness that the conditions of physical learning environments are a sign of equitable treatment of students. Whereas ESSA doesn’t discuss facility conditions directly, the legislation does promote equity, and we know that school building conditions are not equitable currently. Now the remedy for this situation is at the state level, and we should let our local state representatives know that facility improvements are an educational priority.

Resources

National Center for Education Statistics. (2014). Condition of America’s public school facilities. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014022.pdf

Tanner, C. K. (2015). Effects of school architectural designs on students’ accomplishments: An meta-‐analysis.  Education Facilities Clearinghouse.

King, J. (2016a). Remarks Before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on the Nomination of Dr. John B. King Jr., to serve as Education Secretary. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches

King, J. (2016b). What we ought to be: Educational opportunity, civil rights and the Every Student Succeeds Act. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches

Dr. Angel Ford is a research associate with Education Facilities Clearinghouse (EFC).  Dr. Ford has previous experience working as a middle/high school administrator and actively participates in research and content management of the EFC website.

By: Dr. G. Victor Hellman, Jr.

Green buildings, green cleaning, school gardens, and green playgrounds are just a few of the prevalent concepts on the mind of education facility planners and many educational administrators. Just what is this green movement all about? How does a school or a district go green? Is there a checklist that lets an administrator know they have reached the goal of a green school? The simple answer to these questions is that a school or district can do as little or as much as they desire. What is important is that they do something. We all must work together to take steps for a greener school. The terms “green” and “sustainability” are often used interchangeably, and these words imply the need for focusing on conserving resources and creating healthy environments for everyone. Green and sustainable facilities typically have lower life-cycle costs and can demonstrate that they are more energy efficient than their non-green counterparts. Lets examine some of the different ways a school or division can go green.

One way a school or division can go green is to construct facilities that are high performing and sustainable or renovate older facilities to bring them up to standard. The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) is not the only organization that recognizes sustainable facilities; however, it is probably the most widely known. The USGBC has established LEED awards for facilities that are considered high performing and sustainable. LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. While a commitment to a high performance building starts with the owner, it is the design team that includes the components into the new construction or renovation plan to qualify the facility for LEED. There are differing levels of LEED certification depending upon the number of features incorporated into the site and facility. The USGBC recognizes four different levels of LEED: certified, silver, gold, and platinum. The ratings are based on a point system, and facility owners should decide which level of certification they desire before the design or retrofit process begins. While LEED certification may result in higher design and construction costs, incorporating LEED features into a facility will ultimately lower the operational costs over the life of the building. For more information on LEED certification or the USGBC, please visit http://www.usgbc.org/leed .

Another tool to assist in going green is green cleaning. Green cleaning differs from traditional cleaning methods with regard to the solutions and equipment that are used to carry out the cleaning process. The green cleaning process does not utilize toxic chemical-based solutions that have often been used. These cleaning methods have been replaced with solutions such as ionized water. Mops and towels have been replaced with their micro-fiber counterparts. Higher costs and lower efficacy were once cited as reasons not to engage in the green cleaning process. As the solutions and equipment for green cleaning have advanced, these arguments are no longer valid. With the increased efficacy and the minimum or cost-neutral impact of green cleaning, this form of cleaning is something that every school and district should consider. In addition to these considerations, green cleaning is an environmentally friendly alternative to the caustic chemicals used in traditional methods of cleaning. By eliminating the chemical-based cleaners that have been used in the past, there has been a noted decrease in absenteeism from both students and staff. (Issa, Rankin, et.al., 2011)  Just as the decision to construct a high performing building rests with the owner, support from the top down to the custodial staff is essential to develop an effective, sustained green cleaning program. For more information on how to initiate a green cleaning program in your school or division, please visit: http://www.efc.gwu.edu//green-cleaning-series/ .

The final consideration for greening a school (although many more exist) that I will put forward is greening the school playground and/or installing an outdoor school garden. Greening the school playground will often incorporate a school garden, so we will discuss them together. One technique to create a green playground is to eliminate the concrete and asphalt and replace the surfaces with artificial turf or a similar product. Another greening method is called a natural playground. Natural playgrounds integrate features such as trees, bushes, and raised flowerbeds with slides, swings, and benches. Natural playgrounds have resulted in a decrease in violent behavior and an increase in attention (Loomis, 2008).  A school garden can be beneficial for the instructional curriculum as well as having positive effects in improving other site features such as drainage. Finally, schools that have gardens often use the food they grow in their food service program and can even utilize the crops as a source of revenue.

The United States Department of Education also recognizes the advantages of a school or division going green. On July 20, 2016, the Center for Green Schools and the USGBC recognized 47 schools and 15 districts for their outstanding efforts to go green. In addition to the K-12 honorees, 11 colleges and universities were honored with the Postsecondary Sustainability Award. I had the honor of attending the awards ceremony, and would submit to you that those receiving the awards did not go green for the award; instead they took their actions knowing that they were making a positive impact on our environment and reaping the many benefits of going green for their school community.

References:

Issa, M. H., Rankin, J. H., Attalla, M., & Christian, A. J. (2011). Absenteeism, performance and occupant satisfaction with the indoor environment of green toronto schools. Indoor and Built Environment20(5), 511-523.

Loomis, A. (2008). Natural Playgrounds. Sustainable Portland: Implementation Series, 49.

Dr. G. Victor Hellman, Jr., serves as the Research Project Director for the Education Facilities Clearinghouse (EFC). Victor has more than 31 years of work experience in public schools in Virginia. Prior to joining the EFC, he served as Deputy Superintendent of Operations and Support for a mid-urban school district. In that role, he was responsible for finance, facilities, transportation, student services, and food services.

 

by Angel Ford, EdD

Finnish students are excelling academically; in fact, they are passing students in most other nations.  This has not always been the case, however.  Over the past forty years Finland has made great strides to equalize and expand opportunities for their students, empowering them to become some of the top-performing students in the world.

A question we should be asking in America is: What types of educational reform did Finland institute in order to see the marked improvement in student achievement?  The answer is multifaceted and includes improved curriculum quality, increased access, and efforts to support the quality of instruction (Darling-Hammond, 2010).  However, the area of Finland’s reform I would like to highlight is that of improving the physical learning environments where their students learn.

Sparks (2012) explained that Finnish architects developed school building models based on evidence of effective learning spaces.  The architects focused on aspects of the built environment that motivate students and encourage learning.  These designs moved away from factory-style buildings with traditional classrooms to “contemporary campuses built to meet the pedagogical and social needs of their students and teachers” (Sparks, 2012).

Not only did the architects study and apply best practices in designing learning environments, they also worked in direct collaboration with teachers and administrators (Sparks, 2012).  Their designs included clusters of classrooms, areas to view the outside, appropriate lighting, and other building features that have been shown to improve student achievement and well-being.

Sparks (2012) stated that visitors to Finland would see beautifully designed, well-constructed, and thoroughly maintained buildings.  How would visitors to school buildings in American describe what they see?  Some of our schools could be described as attractive state-of-the-art buildings equipped with modern technology; unfortunately, many other schools would be described as drab, run-down buildings without even the basic resources necessary for 21st century learning.

What are we saying to students who attend school in dilapidated buildings?  Are we implying that their education is not important?  Or, are we letting them know that we are only fulfilling an obligation to provide four walls to house them for a certain number of hours every day?

Let’s learn from Finland, and let’s begin to equalize and expand the opportunities our students have by designing and retrofitting the places where they learn based on best practices and solid evidence of effective building designs.  The access students have to clean, well-maintained, and thoughtfully designed learning spaces should not be based on their socio-economic status or where they live in America.  Students from rural communities, students from urban communities and students from the suburbs should all have access to learning spaces that promote healthy living and that help them stay motivated to learn.

References

Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). What we can learn from Finland’s successful school reform. National Education Association. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/40991.htm

Sparks, S. (2012). Finland rethinks factory-style school buildings. Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/07/06/36finland.h31.html

Dr. Angel Ford is a research associate with Education Facilities Clearinghouse (EFC).  Dr. Ford has previous experience working as a middle/high school administrator and actively participates in research and content management of the EFC website.

Bendici, R.

Historic schools in Boston, built before World War II, are finally receiving a facelift.

On the other side of the country, Carmel USD in California found that controlling and maintaining lighting in nine sites spread over 600 square miles can save energy and maintenance hours.And a 10-year deferred maintenance plan in Sycamore Community Schools in Cincinnati will ensure that statewide testing will be smooth and glitch-free.

Such projects represent just a fraction of construction work underway across the nation’s schools.

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Environmental Protection Agency (2015)

School locations and community development are inextricably linked. School locations affect community land use patterns and infrastructure needs. Local land use, the location and capacity of road and utility networks, and community investments in economic development, housing, and other social programs affect school surroundings and learning environments. Taken together, school siting and other community decisions influence housing and transportation choices, neighborhood vitality, economic development, costs of community services, environmental quality, and overall community health and well-being.

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T. R. Dunlap

Conversations on the development of 21st century learning spaces highlight the important role of planning in creating environments that maximize student learning. School systems across our nation routinely develop multiple types of plans—strategic plans, site-based plans, school improvement plans, capital improvement plans, and short-term planning initiatives. Planning is a crucial element for the success of any school system, and careful planning for flexible, innovative, and effective classrooms is imperative.

There are many important components in developing effective plans: beliefs, mission, parameters, strengths, weaknesses, organizational design, competition, external analysis, critical issues, objectives, strategies, and priority actions (Cook, 2001). As educational planners consider 21st century learning environments, they must remember that these spaces are instrumental in carrying forward the values and purposes of the community and district. Educational planning does have its challenges: inadequate funding, lack of commitment, and the inflexible nature of plans (Hambright & Diamantes, 2004). However, where plans are thoughtfully designed and carefully implemented, students, parents, teachers, and school leaders see numerous positive effects.

Many in the education sector would identify 21st century learning spaces as a planning priority for school systems. While districts devote great energy in developing high quality plans, the particulars of classroom design are often left to the site-based plans of individual schools. We know that the quality of a site-based plan can lead to positive implementation outcomes (Strunk, Marsh, Bush-Mecenas, & Duque, 2016). Consequently, planning for 21st century learning spaces must be a priority in our carefully crafted site-based plans. Planning for 21st century learning spaces must incorporate a number of considerations, especially the instructional aims of teachers.

Creating effective 21st century learning spaces that support a wide-range of instructional practices requires a great deal of foresight, deliberation, and action. We must look at what teachers are doing (or want to do) in their instructional spaces and design or retrofit classrooms to accommodate these teaching strategies. Many instructional options today are dependent on spaces such as outdoor classrooms, makerspaces, and multipurpose rooms. Teachers rely on access to technology, and they should be able to arrange their spaces in numerous configurations to support their instruction. Therefore, educational planners must consider the number of instructional approaches teachers utilize when developing facility plans for districts and schools. Ultimately, our purpose for developing 21st century learning spaces is to impact positively learning outcomes for students.

Schools have a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to developing learning spaces that support the many needs of students and teachers. Accordingly, the need to develop 21st century learning spaces in a school’s planning process should not be ignored.

 

References:

Cook, W. J. (2000). Strategics: the art and science of holistic strategy. Westport, Conn.: Quorum Books.

Hambright, G., & Diamantes, T. (2004). Definitions, Benefits, and Barriers of K-12 Educational Strategic Planning. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 31(3), 233–239.

Strunk, K. O., Marsh, J. A., Bush-Mecenas, S. C., & Duque, M. R. (2016). The Best Laid Plans An Examination of School Plan Quality and Implementation in a School Improvement Initiative. Educational Administration Quarterly, 52(2), 259–309.

 

T. R. Dunlap is a research associate for the George Washington University in the Education Facilities Clearinghouse. After having worked as a foreign language educator, he now researches topics relevant to education facilities and their improvements.

Ford, 2016

Over half of the school facilities in America are in poor condition. Unsatisfactory school facilities have a negative impact on teaching and learning. The purpose of this correlational study was to identify the relationship between high school science teachers’ perceptions of the school science environment (instructional equipment, demonstration equipment, and physical facilities) and ninth grade students’ attitudes about science through their expressed enjoyment of science, importance of time spent on science, and boredom with science. A sample of 11,523 cases was extracted, after a process of data mining, from a databank of over 24,000 nationally representative ninth graders located throughout the United States. The instrument used to survey these students was part of the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:2009). The research design was multiple linear regression. The results showed a significant relationship between the science classroom conditions and students’ attitudes. Demonstration equipment and physical facilities were the best predictors of effects on students’ attitudes. Conclusions based on this study and recommendations for future research are made.

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