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Nicholas Johnson's
Comments Regarding the Document
"Improving High School Education While Reducing Costs and Space"
ICCSD School Board Regular Meeting
March 12, 2002

Thank you for this chance to speak about our high schools' educational opportunities.

It is a pleasure to be back in this Boardroom. Although I can report there's also a certain pleasure in watching Board meetings at home on cable television.

I want to thank, congratulate and support you and the Administration in the leadership you are showing regarding what you call "boundaries and educational opportunities."

Not incidentally, I want to take this, my first opportunity, to thank Jerry Palmer [who recently announced his forthcoming retirement] for his contribution not only to this endeavor, but for what has been a lifetime of selfless contribution to the school children of this District.

Serious challenges are posed by the demands of an increase in enrollment, coupled with a decrease in available classrooms.

So far, most of the community's attention has focused on elementary schools.

Now, in your February 19 document, titled "District-Wide Boundaries and Educational Opportunity Proposal," you are advancing innovations for our high schools.

What I want to offer in support of your efforts is a document that builds upon it, titled "Improving High School Education While Reducing Costs and Space."

It has already been provided to you, and some administrators, by e-mail. This evening I have provided hard copy versions. It is also available to the public from my Web site,

It is not a proposal as such. It is a presentation of options; an effort to further stimulate the imaginations of our District's professionals; men and women who know far more than I about high school best practices.

It contains six categories of suggestions.

Space. Most of us can find extra space in a home or office when we have to. Schools can, too. Washington High School in Cedar Rapids found it could turn underutilized vocational space into not just one, but four classrooms.

Schools-within-schools. There are many possible variations. They don't take less space, but it's very different space — a classic example of why these decisions need to be made before, rather than after, consulting architects.

Creative scheduling has been used by many high schools to reduce or eliminate overcrowding. It could virtually eliminate our need for additional space. Once again, the possible variations are almost unlimited.

Out-of-school education can simultaneously increase the quality of education while decreasing the need for space.  This has been a particular emphasis in the recommendations of the National Commission on the High School Senior Year. [See, e.g., its report, Raising Our Sights: No High School Senior Left Behind (Oct. 2001)]

Computer-aided education. One-half of all the nation's high schools offer online instruction. Some now do so exclusively. If we haven't looked at the dramatic changes in computer-aided secondary education recently, we should. They also have implications for space needs and building design.

Finally, there is your creative approach to alternative education. Much can be said in praise of the work of this Board and its alternative high school advisory committee. One byproduct: with 200 high school students in a new school there is substantially less crowding at City and West.

Please ask the Superintendent to review this document. Ask for his responses to the items it mentions, and to the additional ideas that will be proposed by your administrators and teachers.

Before anyone consults an architect they need to know whether they want to build a courthouse or an outhouse. Architects can't help with that decision.

Some of your innovations require differently configured space. Others require substantially less space.

Even if your administrators choose to resist any and all changes, then that decision should be clearly stated and supported in writing prior to drawing up plans.

I believe this document of mine can be helpful to your process. I hope you find it so.

Thank you.

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