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School Construction 2001

August 30, 2001

An urban small-school success story

DLR Group

Photo by Tim Owen
Julia Richman High school’s exterior remained largely unchanged during the renovations that were made to accommodate six small schools.

In New York City, the Board of Education chose the urban Julia Richman High School as one of the first high schools to be reorganized into smaller units.

The Julia Richman Education Complex, as it is now known, contains six schools, with enrollments ranging from 150-400 socioeconomically diverse students per school. It is a shining example of the textbook small school in terms of size, curriculum and educational programming.

It was important to the complex’s new design plans that each school remain autonomous. All six schools occupy their own distinct space, and, to the extent possible, each unit has its own circulation pattern.

In addition to the six small schools, Julia Richman houses several gymnasiums, a library, a cafeteria, dance studio and an art gallery. New for this fall is a distance-learning lab, which will be available to all students in the complex.

As a result of the inherently separate nature of the schools, students develop a strong loyalty to their particular school. The school also utilized strategies to further enhance the feeling of separateness.

Each school operates as an independent entity, which requires its own principal, assistant principal and two counselors. Each school also has its own administrative offices and workrooms. These staff spaces are intentionally open to adjoining gathering space used by staff and students alike. Finally, each school has its own restrooms.

Ann Cook, who is a director in one of Julia Richman’s six schools, says it was crucial that each school have its own restrooms because it prevents intrusions into different schools during the day. Although that design detail was overlooked when the space was first reorganized, the total cost of the school’s revisions was a modest $2.5 million.

Special attention was paid to creating a comfortable environment for students. In the school’s Urban Academy, a living room was created in the common area. Cook says such design features are key components to facilitating student-faculty interaction.

The Urban Academy also deliberately designed teacher offices so students have to go through them to reach a library reading room. Cook sees teacher-student interaction as crucial to the success of the school’s academic programs.

Following Julia Richman’s restructuring, this previously academically failing school boasts a near 100 percent graduation rate, and the four-year college placement rate is a staggering 95 percent.

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