In 1996, the National Association of Secondary School Principals published Breaking Ranks: Changing An American Institution. Its six major themes:

  • Personalizing a student's high school experience.

  • Creating coherency in their education.

  • Organizing time to adapt to the learning abilities of each student.

  • Using technology in the teaching and learning process.

  • Continuing professional education for teachers and administrators.

  • Enhancing at every level leadership relating to teaching and learning.

The most important focus is on high schools being more student-centered.

Many of us were educated in public schools between 1930 and 1950. Those buildings were modeled on the Quincy School in Boston, which was built around 1850. Educational planning and design followed the Quincy pattern for 100 years.

As the population expanded after World War II, suburban areas needed new schools. Educational philosophies and facility design began to change.

Since the 1960s, educators have introduced programs and architects have created facilities to respond to the needs of each student. These include modular scheduling; interdisciplinary teams; open classrooms; and small-, medium- and large-group learning spaces. Classroom wings with double-loaded corridors gave way to interior, windowless classrooms to create flexible spaces.

In the 1970s, the tide turned against modular scheduling, which gave students too much unsupervised time. “Open classrooms” were criticized as distracting. During the 1980s and 1990s, enrollment increased and technology began to play a greater role.

Breaking Ranks states that all aspects of the physical environment have an effect on students. Many administrators, architects and educational planners continue to try to “break ranks” by developing and redefining schools to respond to the six major themes.

These 21st-century high schools may include houses, clusters, families, neighborhoods or domains; flexible team-learning areas; production resource centers; staff office and planning areas; generic labs and flexible classroom clusters to deliver departmental, interdisciplinary and theme instruction; central and grade-level administration; hybrid media, technology centers, student commons and a main street; food courts; forums; childcare; grade-level schools-within-a-school; security systems; and regional heritage and cultural influences. Some examples:

  • A business academy in a eity's downtown.

  • A school operating in partnership with a zoo.

  • A fine-arts school with residence halls for out-of-state students.

  • Alternative schools and school-to-work programs in shopping centers and industrial districts.

  • Vocational schools attached to technical colleges.

  • A hybrid magnet health-services high school attached to a hospital.

  • Specialized schools for juvenile offenders.

Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis. He can be reached at Jrydeen@atsr.com.