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Articles: Facilities

The renovated KIPP DC Douglass Campus houses more than 1,000 charter students in grades preK-12 in a state-of-the-art facility that retains the building’s original character.

The former District of Columbia public school building was constructed in 1950 as a segregated public school. To accommodate the wide age range of its students, the 147,000-square-foot building has multiple entrances and walking routes for students.

School lunches are at the front lines of the country’s childhood obesity and nutrition crisis. First Lady Michelle Obama, star chef Jamie Oliver and the “Renegade Lunch Lady” activist Ann Cooper have helped draw the public interest to the problems in school cafeterias.

Since 2009, I have worked with The Culinary Institute of America’s Menu for Healthy Kids initiative. We have provided school districts in New York’s Hudson Valley with tools to improve the food served to students.

A first-of-its-kind coalition of five of the nation’s largest districts is working to improve the reputation and quality of school food. The Urban School Food Alliance celebrated its one-year anniversary this summer, and includes districts in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas, and Orlando.

Students at the new Rancho Mirage High School will be learning in a state-of-the-art performing arts center, cutting-edge science labs, and a complete culinary arts kitchen.

McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. completed the $100 million high school in July for Palm Springs USD in southern California. The 332,000-square-foot school, which opens this September, was built on more than 60 acres in the city of Rancho Mirage, and will help alleviate overcrowding in the district’s three other high schools.

Students in the Samuel J. Green Charter School listen to a math lesson. As part of the “portfolio” strategy, dozens of independent local and national organizations operate charter schools in the district.

It’s been a decade since Louisiana established the Recovery School District to take over the lowest-performing schools in the state. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the RSD took over almost all the schools in New Orleans, and in the process restructured the city’s school system on an unprecedented level.

Over the past 10 years, New Orleans schools have gone from being some of the lowest performing in the country to becoming a working laboratory for a bold experiment in restructuring an urban public school system.

Superintendent Maureen Sabolinski went door to door to drum up voter support for a new high school in the Franklin (Mass.) Public Schools. Sabolinski visited local coffee shops to tell community members they also would get to use the new high school gym, walking track, theater and library.

It was a daunting project, seemingly impossible to fund with traditional municipal bonds, says Yonkers (N.Y.) Public Schools Superintendent Bernard Pierorazio.

In 2010, a building condition study showed that his district needed $480 million for capital improvements to existing school buildings, while new schools needed to be built given an expected enrollment increase of 3,000 by 2020, for a total of $1.2 billion.

Some schools districts are using enrollment losses and building closures as an opportunity to improve student achievement by shifting kids to better schools.

Record lows in student enrollment and staggering budget cuts have forced some of the nation’s largest districts to close schools, a disruption that has often interfered with classroom instruction.

“Many big urban districts have declining enrollment, as there is exodus to the suburbs and charter schools,” says Ron Zimmer, associate professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, an expert on these trends.

Growing numbers of school districts are entering into public-private partnerships (P3s) to accomplish energy efficiency improvements that will result in cost savings and improved environmental stewardship.

For instance, last year, the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) in California launched its Efficiency Financing Program to fund energy efficiency and water retrofits on local schools. Fifty-four school campuses, two local governments and a nonprofit hospital are currently participating in the program, which is backed by contractually guaranteed cost savings.

Walking to school combats obesity and increases student concentration, according to a Danish study released last year. Children who walk or bike to school performed better on tasks demanding concentration, such as solving puzzles, than those who traveled by car or bus, the researchers found.

Most children consume too much omega-6, which is found in soybean oil, and is an ingredient in many processed foods. But they don’t get enough omega-3, a fatty acid found in foods generally consumed less frequently, such as flax seeds, walnuts, salmon, grass-fed beef and soybeans (though not soybean oil). 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most children and adolescents in the United States eat too much sugar, fat, and salt, but not enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Further, they consume about half their “empty calories” in the form of soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza and whole milk (CDC, 2013).

Aside from new transportation routes, Solanco Public Schools also offers kids the option to just stay home altogether.

The Solanco Virtual Academy (SVA) is a district-operated cyber school that offers an alternative to standard instruction by teaching K12 kids at home through computers, with monitoring and evaluation performed by district teachers. “Some children just don’t perform as well in the classroom,” says Keith Kaufman, Solanco’s director of community relations, so Pennsylvania allows students the option to attend school online.

Public and private students living in the Solanco Public Schools district are picked up and dropped off daily at one of five hubs Solanco uses to bus students.

Solanco Public Schools—short for “Southern Lancaster County”—is the fifth largest district in Pennsylvania, spanning 181 square miles. And it means long bus rides for students: 50 minutes for elementary students and an hour or more for middle and high school.

Though the Santa Monica-Malibu USD in California does not have a turf field, members of the Malibu Community Alliance filed a lawsuit against the district and city in July 2012 to stop the district from installing permanent 70-foot-tall lights on the football field.

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