Competitive Communities
Building Communities for Tomorrow's Economy
Connecting Communities with Schools

Saturday, June 28, 2008  

Finding new ways to improve the quality and efficiency of communities is a challenge. Rethinking the relationships between schools, neighborhoods, municipalities and regions is an opportunity to design new models of schools as centers of communities. These new models of schools can become trusted places where civic capacity is raised, facilities are designed for the 21st century learner and the surrounding community is served in innovative ways. This philosophy is a move away from school consolidation toward smaller scaled facilities that are integrally connected to their neighborhoods and where access by walking and bicycling is part of the planning model.

A 2006 report, Model Policies in Support of High Performance School Buildings for all Children, by BEST (Building Educational Success Together) looks at some of the policy changes needed to allow innovation such as shared planning and funding of new models of community schools. The following are excerpts from the report:

“The BEST partners developed a four-part policy agenda:

1. Increase the coordination of school district and municipal planning and ensure there is public participation in the planning process;
2. Create and support schools as centers of community that offer school-based supports to children to eliminate barriers to success and serve the broader community;
3. Improve facilities management, including maintenance and capital improvement programs; and
4. Secure adequate and equitable facilities funding.”

Schools are needed to anchor changing and stable communities…there are policy and practice barriers to shared use of public schools with non-school entities.”

“The concept of schools as centers of community includes: (a) extensive and innovative community use of the public school facility; (b) schools where community partnerships support high quality education, and contribute to life-long learning; (c) co-location with local government agencies and/or community organizations resulting in creative program service delivery and more efficient utilization of public land and buildings; and (d) opportunities for new and/or additional sources of funds for financing building improvements and program delivery.”

“…establish a process to support joint development between school districts and other public entities such as libraries, parks, senior centers, health clinics and public charter schools, for examples; that supports the planning, design and construction or modification of buildings for the ongoing shared use of public school facilities with other public government entities.”

“Through joint planning efforts the school district and the municipal entity can develop a project to utilize land and funds more efficiently. There are savings to be realized for both entities when there is shared use of a facility and site. These possible savings include site acquisition, design fees, construction or renovation costs, operating expenses, and maintenance costs.”

“…new schools, where necessary, should be built in existing and expanding communities. In dense urban areas, a new or renovated school can mean new life for a neighborhood.”

Consolidation of small schools is a major threat in rural areas. Consolidation often means that smaller schools or schools located near small populations will be abandoned in favor of larger schools located on large previously undeveloped parcels. In many cases, these schools are far from existing communities. This adversely affects both the community that lost the original school and the students who are required to commute to school.”

“School districts struggle with the books versus bricks tension in all but the most affluent communities. The result of this is often that maintenance is deferred until there is a crisis—no heat, roof collapse, unsafe conditions—or in many schools, a quiet decline that eventually reduces parental and teacher satisfaction with the school, sending parents and staff to other schools or communities to live and work.”

posted by Kim | 7:32 PM
Linking and Leveraging – Schools, Communities and Local Governments

Sunday, June 22, 2008  

Collaboration between engaged citizens, school districts and local governments will improve the quality of our communities. The location, size and use of public schools have tremendous impacts on communities. These impacts include: the economy, the environment and public health, traffic congestion, community cohesion, social equity, quality of education, and school and local government finance. In most communities this collaboration does not exist due to “lack of trust, politics, time constraints, lack of communication and lack of commitment”. The results are evident and not sustainable.

A 2008 report from the Smart Growth Network, Local Governments and Schools – A Community Oriented Approach, written by Megan Sharp, an assistant project manager in ICMA’s Livable Communities Team provides compelling information about the benefits of smaller community schools.

The following are excerpts and information from the report:

“Since the 1950s, average school size (measured by enrollment capacity) has grown and school facilities have become increasingly distant from the neighborhoods they serve. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that from 1930 to 2001, public school enrollment in the U.S. nearly doubled, from 26 to 48 million, yet the number of public school buildings decreased 60 percent in the same period, from 247,000 to 93,000. These statistics indicate a shift from an average of 105 students per school building to 516 students, across all grades. As average school size has grown, schools have also been built farther from where people actually live. This trend is related not only to the growth in average enrollment size, but also to a variety of policies and practices… that encourage large site sizes and discourage renovation or expansion of existing schools.”

“State and local policies—as well as how local governments and school districts interact with each other—influence decisions about where and how school facilities are built, maintained, and used. The land use and facility planning efforts of local governments and school districts have become increasingly separated in most communities. Their lack of coordination may contribute to the trend toward larger, more distant schools and associated economic, environmental, and social impacts.”

Between 1969 and 2001 the percentage of elementary students walking or biking to school dropped from 48% to less than 15%. Those students arriving by private vehicles increased from 12% to 50% during the same time frame. Those arriving by bus dropped from 38% to 32%.

“The decline in walking and biking to and from school poses two problems: increased vehicle travel and decreased student physical activity. The former, like all congestion, contributes to air and water pollution and carbon emissions that impact climate change. And the latter is thought to be a major contributor to the rapid rise in youth obesity rates.”

This report provides recommendations and case studies from communities that have begun collaborating and moving to community oriented schools. Connecting smaller schools to the communities that surround them is smart and is one of the ingredients for communities to achieve greater prosperity.

posted by Kim | 5:14 PM