School Climate & Safety

Smaller Schools in Shared Space Seen as Recipe for Success

By Bess Keller — September 12, 2001 2 min read
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As community after community puts money into school buildings, leaders will improve the lot of children and make better use of public money if they break away from old patterns and create smaller schools in shared spaces.

That’s the message of a report released last week by the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, based in Washington, and an education think tank at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

“Smaller Safer, Saner, Successful Schools,” 2001, is available from the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The report, “Smaller, Safer, Saner, Successful Schools,” connects two ideas that have attracted attention among school reformers and youth advocates: making schools smaller and building schools that house community services as well.

Joe Nathan, who wrote the study along with graduate student Karen Febey, said in an interview that the billions of dollars that states and districts are pouring into the nation’s aging and inadequate schools present an extraordinary opportunity. But it is one that could be lost if districts continue to build larger schools designed for students only, he said.

“This report is a plea to families and educators and school boards and administrators to do things with buildings that are clearly supported by research,” said Mr. Nathan, who directs the Center for Social Change at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

Report Cites Examples

The report reviews the research on small schools and on shared facilities, concluding that each benefits students. Small schools are credited with positive effects on achievement, safety, and behavior, while shared facilities expand available services and learning opportunities, the report says.

Joe Nathan

The bulk of the study provides sketches of 22 public schools in 12 states that say they provide small-school environments, the advantages of shared resources, or both. Among the featured schools:

  • Four magnet high schools that share a 1930s-era high school building in the borough of Queens in New York City;
  • A pre-K-8 school in Cincinnati with 435 students that provides space to a family-service agency, which in turn works with students and their families; and
  • A high school specializing in environmental studies located on the grounds of the Minnesota Zoo.

Mr. Nathan said the report was designed in part for educators and families who are drawn to the possibilities of small schools but don’t know how to proceed, or who are told such schools are too expensive. “I see enormous eagerness to improve, but people need to see how it’s feasible to do this,” he said.

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