Siting a School in a Sausage

Here’s a lesson about how Collaboration, Consultation and Compromise might not, in the end, come up with the best solution.

The topic:  We’re building a new school in our neighbourhood.  Not to accomodate an influx of new kids, but to cope with the long slow decline in enrollment in the neighbourhood.   Three existing schools serving just over 500 kids [pre-K – grade 8] today and projecting out to just over 400 kids in the future.

The Good News:  We’re getting a new school!  One that will reflect all the best things in new teaching methods and a greater range of learning patterns.  A school built to bring out the very best in all our kids.  One that will set them up well to live and work in the new Creative Age.   Very rare to do this in an older neighbourhood and almost unheard of in Regina.

The Bad News #1:  Complete lack of agreement on what ‘Big’ or ‘Small’ is with respect to school size or what’s the optimal size for new ‘team teaching’ methods.  Instead, we’re bound to an arbitrary number of 200 kids as a minimum number for a school.   The result:  We’re not combining three schools into one, but instead three schools into two. 

The Bad News #2:  The two schools we’re combining are at the edges of the neighbourhood.    We need to pick one of the existing sites for the new school.  The end result is a serving area that looks like a big sausage with a school at one end.

The Bad News #3.  Because we’re only building a school for 225 kids, we’re not building a ‘full size’ school.  We’re getting a small (class C) gymnasium.  We get the bare minimum of project rooms and no specific project rooms for things like music, dance or the arts.

We’re really setting ourselves up for a problem in the future.   Even if you believe that 250 kids is an optimal school size and 200 is a minimum cut off  (and I’m convinced that’s still too small), the numbers just don’t add up well for two schools.

Best Case: 8 years from now we’ll have two schools just barely above the minimum cut off (203 kids per school.)  Each school has their nose just barely above water.

Worse Case:  One school is well above the cut (300 kids) and this school is overcrowded.  The other school is well below the cut (100 kids) and is on the list for closure.  It makes no difference which school is big or small here.  Either there are too many kids packed into a very old school or we built the new school way too small. 

In my mind, there’s an easy way to fix this — combine all three schools now and put a new school in the centre of the neighbourhood.     The school is built big enough from the start, with a full slate of features.  400 students is still not a Big School, even in Saskatchewan (Warman, SK for example is dealing with schools that can’t even hold all their kids.  500 kids from K-5 means grade 6-8 are in the high school.)

It’s getting to the point of groupthink.  The best ideas of individuals are combined to do a dumb thing, but we can all say we collaborated in the process.  And $15 million down the tube building something that will be either way too big or way too small.