Building a nation of super schools

AEC teams are being asked to design and build schools with enough flexibility to adapt to changing pedagogies.

December 12, 2016 |

Stoddert Elementary & Community Center, in Washington D.C., features a computer lab rotation design that provides students individual access to technology. 

As school districts explore new ways to reach the broadest number of students, myriad teaching methods—some with one foot in psychology and the other in commerce— are seeping into the educational bloodstream. As a result, AEC teams are being asked to design and build schools with enough flexibility to adapt to changing pedagogies.

Architect Richard Berliner singles out a K-8 charter school in Lancaster, Calif., that “doesn’t have a single traditional classroom.” It follows the teaching blueprint of ILead—for International Leadership and Entrepreneurial Development, inspired by Stephen Covey’s book and program “The Leader in Me.” At USC Hybrid High School—a personalized college-prep program developed by the charter management organization Ednovate and affiliated with the University of Southern California—teachers weave yearlong themes (such as “Know Yourself ” or “Know Your World”) into their students’ coursework.

Last September, 10 campuses nationwide (from among 10,000 applicants) received $10 million each to create “a high school of the future” through XQ: The Super School Project, an organization of educators and engineers launched last year by Laurene Power Jobs, the widow of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs.

Like other XQs, Vista High School, in the North San Diego area, has a year to implement its plan and five years to incorporate XQ’s program. The details of what this will mean for the physical school are still being worked out. Right now, some Vista classes are conducted in modular trailers. But the campus has 50 acres, “so we have lots of room to maneuver,” says Ashley Johnson, Architectural Designer at Berliner Architects, which is designing Vista’s XQ campus. The firm envisions a high school with dedicated classrooms interspersed with rings of flexible and common spaces.

The high school will retain its Personalized Learning Academy, a school within a school that replaces conventional classes with individualized coursework and online curricula. The school has contracted with software developers to design an app that will chart students’ progress in mastering skills and completing projects. 

Overlay Init