Leander ISD is on track to open its newest high school in 2016. Designed with flexibility in mind, the school will be ready to incorporate the high school curriculum changes brought on by House Bill 5.
The new legislation creates a "foundation" plan of classes that all students must complete to graduate, but it also allows students to earn an endorsement in one of five fields including business and industry, art and humanities, science and technology.
When it comes to Leander ISD's sixth high school, Brad Pfluger of Pfluger Architects, the firm designing the new school, says the academic houses specialized by subject are an important feature.
Pfluger says he met with Leander ISD teachers and community members to incorporate their needs into the layout. He presented updated designs for the new school, set to be completed by summer 2016, at last week's school board meeting.
"The academic houses are a key element of the plan, trying to create smaller learning communities so that the students feel like they’re part of a small academic house rather than a 2,400 student high school," he says. "It creates better identity and better social networking."
Veronica Sopher, Leander ISD's senior executive director of school and community relations, says the design will make it easier for school officials to enforce the new curriculum outlined in HB 5.
"Compared to a building that was designed in the 1950s, the curriculum, the expectations, the requirements were significantly different then," she says. "Some schools with older structures are still able to provide that same flexibility and have similar results to brand new buildings."
Sopher says this isn't the first time local districts have had to work around a major overhaul in the state's curriculum requirements. She says the new facility could serve as a model for future schools in Texas.
"Every time that happens, districts have to utilize their facilities the best way they can to ensure they're being compliant," she says.
Designers separated the school's academic wings from common areas like the library and cafeteria, which will be centrally located. A separate building for athletics and extracurricular activities will help the school cut down on after-hours operation costs, Pfluger says. He says features like transparent and collapsible walls will also promote collaboration across disciplines.
"One of the key things that we talked about was how we make this flexible because we know that this is going to change over time," Pfluger says. "We know that students change, we know that technology changes and we know that the building needs to be able to adapt to all of that."