New schools will support cluster plan Carroll planners say ,,model breaks subject barriers

Concept seeks connections

Grouping disciplines stresses flexibility for future students

August 30, 1998|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

In Carroll County's high schools of the 21st century, the traditional barriers between educational departments will come tumbling down to make way for clusters.

This grouping of similar academic departments is central to the design for new high schools to be built over the next four years in South Carroll and Westminster. The plan rejects the rigid separation of academic departments, which has long dominated high school design, for a layout intended to foster increased cooperation among teachers of different disciplines.

"In the integrated model, what you're trying to do is start to associate the natural connections between disciplines," said Kathleen Sanner, director of school support services for county schools.

For example, Sanner said, in the cluster model, a social studies teacher planning a unit about the Civil War might work with an English teacher to include literature from the period in a lesson plan.

"It's a way of starting to get kids to look at the world in a different way," Sanner said. "To start to connect learning with career and concentrations and disciplines.

School officials said that flexibility is a priority in the design of the high schools. The buildings must be able to accommodate course offerings that change because of state requirements, enrollment fluctuations and new career options.

"These high schools are going to be around for 50 years," said Gregory Eckles, director of Carroll's secondary schools. "We want to meet the needs of students, depending on the times."

Westminster High School Principal Sherri-Le Bream said that over the past several years, the county's career and technology curriculum has broadened to include more math and science. But at Westminster High, integrating the two disciplines is difficult because the departments are at opposite ends of the building.

"Sometimes the [building] design doesn't help to support instruction," Bream said.

Facilities to follow trend

Over the past decade, the cluster concept has emerged as a popular design for high schools across the country.

"It's breaking the old molds and getting out of the box everyone's always lived in," said Gary K. Blanton, a vice president with SHW Group, the architects for the new high schools.

In Maryland, the cluster model was used in two high schools opening this year -- Kent Island High School in Queen Anne's County and Montgomery Blair High School in Montgomery County, said Barbara Bice, an architect with the state Department of Education.

Howard County's River Hill High School, built in 1994, also has clusters.

Scott Pfeifer, River Hill's principal, said he's particularly pleased with the success of the ninth-grade cluster, where freshmen take many of their courses and their teachers have a common planning area.

"It's become a place for ninth-graders -- they hang out there," Pfeifer said. "The school design recognizes the fact that there's a real difference between freshmen and seniors."

Opening doors

The South Carroll high school, scheduled to open in 2001, will be the county's first new school since Liberty High School opened in 1978.

A construction and planning committee appointed by the school board in October met during the school year to decide how the high schools should be built. The committee included teachers, principals, parents and students.

For a week in June, the committee and the architects designing the school met in Sanner's office to hammer out the design.

The county school board approved the plan this month.

"I think that Carroll County has done a really good job of describing in detail what some of their philosophies are for where they want to take this high school," said Blanton.

"We want to make sure that when we create a piece of architecture, it supports an educational program," he said.

The two-story school is organized around a central corridor, or "Main Street," with clusters branching off on each side, Blanton said.

Design has a purpose

On the first floor, the cluster nearest the building entrance is for arts and physical education. It includes visual arts classrooms, the gymnasium and the auditorium.

The "flexible" cluster will house generic classroom and laboratory space that can be tailored to fit the school's needs. Some committee members suggested using the space as a separate area for ninth-graders to ease the transition to high school.

Also on the first floor are administration and guidance offices, the cafeteria and the media center.

The humanities cluster, which includes classrooms for English, lTC social studies and foreign language classes, is on the second floor.

The math, science and technology cluster is split between the first and second floors. It also will include career and technology courses, family and consumer science, business education, agri-science and health classes.

On both levels, most of the classrooms are built around courtyards to allow natural light in the building.

Pub Date: 8/30/98

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