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News items come from the U.S. Department of Educations's National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF).

Madison School District report: Focus on building additions and renovations, not boundary changes
-- ABIGAIL BECKER, Wisconsin State Journal

Wisconsin: September 16, 2014 -- The Madison School District should proceed with building additions and renovations, not boundary changes, to alleviate crowding in schools, according to a district report. While several schools are operating at or above 100 percent of their capacity, researchers say changing school boundaries isn’t the answer to capacity concerns. The Research & Program Evaluation Office studied the hypothetical possibility of moving students from crowded schools to others in the district and took into account six considerations the School Board adopted in 2007 when evaluating boundary changes. These considerations include reasonable bus routes, a rule to keep students from moving schools more than once in five years, grandfathering fourth and fifth grades, desirable school size, avoiding low-income concentrations and keeping neighborhoods intact. The report studied the possibility of moving some students between schools: Sandburg to Mendota; Midvale and Van Hise to Thoreau; Hamilton to Cherokee; Hawthorne to Lowell; and Kennedy to Allis. Each proposed boundary change except one, Hamilton to Cherokee, failed to live up to the six-consideration framework, leading researchers to conclude that future long-term facilities solutions will be “more comprehensive, less politically controversial and less challenging for MMSD students and families than changing school attendance boundaries,” according to the report. The district is proposing $27 million in additions and renovations at several schools to address crowding and other issues. Over the next several weeks it plans to seek feedback from the public. At its Monday meeting, the School Board briefly debated the merits of using boundary changes instead of renovations.

Nearly 70 city charter schools covered by suit seeking facility funds
-- Geoff Decker , NY Chalkbeat

New York: September 16, 2014 -- A new school funding lawsuit filed upstate could be a boon for nearly 70 charter schools in the five boroughs. The lawsuit, filed Monday by four families from Buffalo and one family from Rochester, claims that the state shortchanges students in charter schools by not providing money for space. And while the complaint focuses on funding disparities in upstate cities, their claims would also apply to dozens of New York City charter schools that still aren’t guaranteed facilities funding. The legal attack represents the latest front in a lengthy battle over charter school facilities funding, which has its roots in the 1998 law that first allowed charter schools to open in New York. Charter schools do receive some state funding, but they weren’t given access to the state’s building aid program, which subsidizes district school construction projects. When schools opened in private facilities, they had to set aside a chunk of their operating budget—meant for teachers and school supplies—toward expenses like rent, security, maintenance, and renovations. In New York City, those costs can add up. Brooklyn Prospect Charter School Executive Director Daniel Rubenstein told Chalkbeat earlier this year that he had to set aside a little less than 20 percent of his $13 million budget to replace fire alarms, upgrade bathrooms and install a new science lab in addition to paying rent and other facilities expenses. Most of the nearly 200 charter schools that opened under Mayor Michael Bloomberg received free space in city-owned buildings. But 68 charter schools, serving 25,000 students, operate in private buildings and spend, according to one tally, an extra $2,300 for every student on facilities.

Department of Education visits Colorado's 'green' schools
-- Nelson Garcia, Channel 9 News

Colorado: September 16, 2014 -- KUSA – The federal government wants to recognize schools that teach and practice being environmental. Representatives from the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbons Schools program are taking the Green Strides Tour through Colorado. "The idea is to bring more attention to our honorees, the great work they are doing, the resources that they are using, that all schools could be using," Andrea Suarez Falken, director Green Ribbon Schools Program, said. "Get the word out so that we have all schools moving in the same direction." Falken started her tour at the Denver Green School. She then visited three Douglas County Schools, Heritage Elementary in Highlands Ranch, Larkspur Elementary, and Flagstone Elementary in Castle Rock. Douglas County was recognized for its practices in sustainability. "They have to be reducing environmental impact and costs," Falken said. "That's everything – waste, water, recycling energy use, alternative energy, transportation." Falken visited schools that have farms, solar panels, extensive recycling programs, and educational projects that promote being 'Green.' "They're finding that students want to learn by doing," Falken said. "They don't want to learn by reading about it." But, some parents question whether the Douglas County School District is taking too much credit. "Absolutely," Cristin Patterson, parent, said. "It was driven by the students to begin with." Patterson is a parent at Heritage Elementary. She is also the spokesperson from a group called Douglas County Parents, which has been outspoken on various issues against the school district and the conservative-leaning school board. "The success of our school and many of our schools is very much due to parent support," Patterson said. She says the financial support of parents is what makes the Green projects possible at schools around the district. She says parents generated more than $115,000 to support the budget at Heritage. "The parents are filling the gaps that are not provided by the district," Patterson said.

Rodent droppings, leaky roof, termite damage point up lack of New Orleans school maintenance
-- Danielle Dreilinger, The Times-Picayune

Louisiana: September 15, 2014 -- Joan Reilly, principal of Homer A. Plessy Community School in New Orleans, is an optimist. So when the state Department of Health and Hospitals inspector met her for a tour of the A. P. Tureaud Elementary campus in the 7th Ward, after her charter organization rented the building and just one month before she was to welcome students back from vacation, she thought, "Nothing a coat of paint can't fix." Four and a half hours later, the inspector turned to her and said, "Well, you have a water fountain that works." Dating to 1939, Tureaud has stately bones, with high ceilings and tall, built-in windowed cabinets. But the July inspection report was long and disgusting. Rodent droppings in the kitchen. Peeling paint and damaged plaster everywhere. Ceiling tiles hanging loose or with holes in them or just not there - not just in one room, but on every floor. The paint had bubbled like cauliflower from the moisture that had seeped through from outside. Termites had chewed away the brick building's wooden windowsills. Loose doors and windows let in bugs, rain and mice. On the top floor, wasps had built a nest. When Plessy staff moved a file cabinet, the entire plaster wall behind it collapsed. Just two months earlier, at the end of the 2013-14 academic year, 200 children were being educated in that building, in one of the last conventional schools run by the state Recovery School District. The health inspector had been to Tureaud previously and was furious, Reilly said, having thought the building was closing for good instead of being rented out to a charter organization. It is still set to be closed, eventually, designated to be "landbanked" by the Recovery School District when New Orleans' $1.8 billion school facilities rebuilding plan is finished. But to help Plessy move into the Tureaud campus right away, the Orleans Parish School Board approved $1 million for immediate repairs. Decrepit New Orleans school buildings such as Tureaud are nothing new. The massive, federally funded overhaul of the city's school stock was required in large part not by Hurricane Katrina damage but because the buildings were already in such bad shape before the 2005 storm. Katrina was only the last nail in the coffin for many of these campuses.

Group targets 11 recreational spaces in demand over public money for arena
-- Don Walker , Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel

Wisconsin: September 15, 2014 -- A new report to be released Tuesday by Common Ground, a community advocacy group that has inserted itself into the discussion involving a new Milwaukee arena, has identified 11 recreational and school athletic spaces in Milwaukee County it says are in most need of improvement. The estimated cost to improve and upgrade those 11 spaces: anywhere from $63 million to $70 million. Earlier this year, Common Ground members backed a resolution to support public funding for a new, multipurpose arena in Milwaukee as long as $150 million to $200 million is invested in the group's Fair Play campaign to improve Milwaukee County public schools' athletic facilities and recreational spaces. If that money is not forthcoming, Common Ground members have said they will oppose the use of public money for the new arena. In June 2013, Common Ground released a study of 268 recreational sites in the county and determined that 65% of the recreational and athletic spaces were rated terrible, poor or fair. The 65% does not take into account the 16 sites in the county that do not have any outdoor athletic facilities at all. "The current state of Milwaukee County's public school athletic facilities is unacceptable," the new report states. "They are, in many cases, unsafe and unusable, and in some cases, even nonexistent." Here are the 11 fields the group says are most in need of improvement:

State rethinking model school designs
-- Johanna Seltz, The Boston Globe

Massachusetts: September 14, 2014 -- After aggressively promoting model schools as a cost-saving approach to building new facilities, the state agency overseeing the construction process is reevaluating that approach — and has not approved a new model school project since 2012. The Massachusetts School Building Authority had approved 18 school projects in the three previous years using the model school approach, in which districts chose from a list of designs of previously constructed schools. The approved projects included the Duxbury Middle/High School, East Bridgewater High School, Franklin High School, Hingham Middle School, Marshfield High School, Natick High School, Newburyport’s Bresnahan Elementary School, Norwood High School, Plymouth North High School, Quincy Central Middle School, and Tewksbury Memorial High School. Communities participating in the program received extra “points” and, therefore, a larger reimbursement from the state of the final construction cost. The idea was that districts would save time and money by shortening the design process. But in practice, the approach had some flaws, according to Jack McCarthy, who took over as head of the school building authority in January 2012.

Wake County families lobby for changes in student assignment plan
-- T. Keung Hui, Newsobserver

North Carolina: September 14, 2014 -- The student reassignment wars have returned to Wake County, with parents fighting the school system – and sometimes other parents – about where their children are assigned to go to school. Wake’s annual struggle over determining where students go to school took a one-year hiatus when the school board decided not to move any children for the school year in progress. But with a new student assignment proposal on the table for 2015-16, parents are mobilizing again to try to block potential changes in where their children go to school. “Keeping schools the same provides strong stability for our children,” Melissa Gilmore, a Wake Forest parent, said at a school board meeting earlier this month. “Children have far too many changing variables in their lives, and school changes do not need to be one of them. Taking children out of their current school isn’t good for their social, emotional or academic development.” The lobbying will likely ramp up over the next few months as Wake comes closer to completing a new plan. As a fast-growing district of 155,000 students, Wake County historically has reassigned thousands of students each year. In the mid- to late-2000s, high rates of growth led to mass reassignments and mandatory year-round schools, with unprecedented levels of opposition from the burgeoning suburbs that resulted in a 2009 change in board leadership. The board decided not to make any changes for the 2014-15 school year in anticipation of this new plan. Last month, school assignment staff unveiled the first draft of the plan that they say focuses primarily on filling new schools, reducing crowding at existing schools and reducing the number of families with children on different calendars. The plan mostly affects Apex, North Raleigh and Wake Forest. Administrators have encouraged public comments, saying they would be used in a second draft released in October. Comments will continue to be factored in when an official plan is presented to the school board in November, with a vote expected in December.

Chicago schools filthy with rodents, roaches, garbage — principals say
-- Valerie Strauss, Washington Post

Illinois: September 14, 2014 -- School reformers today, operating under the illusion that the private sector can do just about everything better and cheaper than government institutions, have been working to privatize public education by contracting out to private entities key operations of schools — and often entire schools. Such a move with the custodial force in Chicago Public Schools has, principals say, led to a mess. Nearly half of the principals in the district responded to a survey by the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association and said that ever since the school district awarded $340 million in two custodial management contracts in February to private concerns, their schools have been filthy, according to Catalyst Chicago. Principals reported serious problems with rodents, roaches and other bugs, filthy floors, overflowing garbage bins, filthy toilets, missing supplies such as toilet paper and soap, and broken furniture — issues they said they didn’t have before. Now, many said, they spend a lot of time trying to clean their buildings. The three-year contracts were awarded to Aramark ($260 million) and Sodexmagic ($80 million) to clean Chicago’s schools. At the time, school district spokesman Joel Hood issued a statement saying that the contracts would give “measurable benefits” that will make the schools “significantly cleaner while also saving the district tens of millions of dollars.” The district said a survey had showed that most schools were not clean enough before the contracts were awarded. There’s more: Now about 475 custodians who work under the management of Aramark — out of the district’s force of 2,500 — are going to be laid off, district officials said, a move that angered Troy LaRaviere, principal of Blaine Elementary School and chairman of the activist arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association that sent out the survey. He sent an e-mail to principals that said in part: “They don’t have enough custodians as it is and now this private company wants to lay off nearly 500 more in order to decrease their payroll and increase their profit margins at the expense of our schools and our students.”

School gardens teach real life skills
-- Angela Breza-Pierce, Tallahassee Democrat

Tennessee: September 12, 2014 -- It is 2 p.m. on a hot and humid Wednesday afternoon. Students drop their backpacks outside the picket fence and gather trowels, rakes and baskets from the storage area. It’s “Weeding Wednesday” at Chiles High School’s garden. The students are excited and inquisitive: “Potatoes in the ground?” “I smell something wonderful!” “Look at all the bees!” And my favorite, “Can we pick it now and eat it?” There is a growing divide between today’s youth and the ecology that surrounds them. Many young people stay inside in front of computers or playing video games, exploring virtual reality instead of the natural world. Traditional classrooms are too often tightly structured and stifle a student’s creative exploration. School gardens are outdoor classrooms where learning happens through trial and error and hands-on experiences. Their benefits are numerous, substantiated by an abundance of research and anecdotal evidence. They are a means of improving academic success, promoting good health, demonstrating stewardship, fostering community and instilling a sense of place. School gardens have been shown to improve math, science, writing, social studies and attitudes toward learning. Teachers view school gardens as living laboratories, a botany lesson on a plate, math for determining the growth rate of plants, and the muse for writing a poem. Gardens represent a pure and direct experimental, inquiry-based approach to learning. Students benefit enormously from school gardens by gaining knowledge of good nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices. Besides exposing students to fresh veggies, school gardening also requires physical work. Students burn energy pulling weeds, shoveling compost or mulching the beds with pine straw. Working in the garden is very different from the traditional classroom where students sit in a desk for most of the day. Every school resides within a watershed and ecosystem. These systems have water, waste and energy flowing into and out of them and this can be clearly demonstrated in a school garden. School gardens reduce the school’s ecological impact through composting food scraps, mulching beds with pine straw and harvesting rainwater with rain barrels. Understanding the ecosystem in which the school is located fosters a strong environmental stewardship ethic. School gardens also encourage community and social development. Life skills such as teamwork, volunteerism and communication are products of working in the garden. These skills are important to the development of youth and a strong community. Being involved in the school garden gives students an understanding of the area and a sense of place — what the natural world looks, feels and smells like. Recognizing this helps them distinguish how they are the same and how they are different from the rest of the world.

Country’s First “Net-Zero” Energy School Opens In Coppell
-- Staff Writer, CBS DFW

Texas: September 12, 2014 -- It may look like any normal school building, but it is anything but. Coppell ISD opened the doors to Lee Elementary this year, as the country’s first “net-zero” energy school. “Net-zero” means the school will produce as much energy as it uses, so its net energy consumption equals zero! While kids are busy making the grades, the building itself is making just about everything else . It harvests daylight so students can see, recaptures water on rainy days to irrigate the soil and flush the toilets, collects electricity through wind turbines. “I’ve never seen a school like this that’s so fancy. It’s very, very beautiful,” says fifth grader, Sanskar Singh. First year principal Chantel Kastrounis takes CBS 11 on a tour of the school, showing off everything but the classrooms. She says traditional classrooms don’t exist here. “We call them spaces, and so our designers utilize the spaces based on the needs. So it could be how they arrange the furniture to how they use the materials or how they even use the walls,” she explained. Thanks to special paint, learning happens on walls, windows, and all over the place. The furniture is made to move around and it does. The configurations change as often as the lessons in a school built to create more energy than it uses. “Everything from the carpet, to the paint, to the materials in the walls, all contribute to the sustainability and the green component of this building,” said Coppell ISD Assistant Superintendent Sid Grant.

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