Summer 2006 Newsletter

Schools Planned as 'Center of the Community' in Lennox

Ken KnottAs an unincorporated community in L.A. County, Lennox does not provide the range of services that a city would. It does, however, have its own elementary school district, on which the families of Lennox, many of whom are low-income, depend. It is only natural, then, that Lennox would want to respond to the unique needs of Lennox families by forming a partnership with NSBN to plan its new pre-K center. Lennox School District Assistant Superintendant Ken Knott spoke with NSBN about the planning process for this new facility.

Lennox School District, NSBN, along with an array of other partners has been working on a master plan for one of your new school campuses that envisions including early education, pre-K, and many other family-centered resources. What is the value for the school district of such collaborative, shared-use master-planning?

From the standpoint of an opportunity to think ahead, as opposed to react, and to be able to plan for future needs, it's been invaluable. We've worked on coordinating the new elementary school that may break ground in September with the preschool component and the early education center component that is going to open in August. We were able to coordinate those two projects so that they complement one another.

There will be access by the community for ages 0 to 3, and 4- and 5-year-olds at the Early Education Center, and then kindergarten through fifth grade education services at the new elementary school. Emerging out of that prior planning came the ideas of adding outreach for the Healthy Start program, a collaborative effort with El Camino College, to provide some adult education classes, a collaborative effort to provide internet education access for the Whelan community, and possibly a sub-station either for the Sheriff's Department and/or the Parks Department so that we can share the athletic facilities for after school activities.

Where will the funds and programatic resources come from to build out the school campus master plan? Does Lennox School District's capital program cover all the costs?

Funding for the new elementary school, the purchase of the land, and the money to build a new elementary school all come from the state. And as a hardship district, Lennox is 100 percent funded. Some of the preschool and early education expense is paid for out of state preschool funds and some of it is paid through early education funds, but the vast majority of it is an in-kind contribution by the district.

Since we have some surplus relocatable classrooms, we provided the classrooms for the preschool, and we'll do the restroom and access renovations. But we'll look to LAUP to help with some of that renovation cost. In terms of the early education expenses, we worked in collaboration with the W.M. Keck Foundation. The Keck Foundation provided the money for an administration building and a classroom building.

Between the state, grants, and district in-kind matches, we have planned and are building out what I think is going to be an excellent educational facility for the east side of our community.

What are the actual planning and funding incentives and obstacles for the Lennox staff to engage in a master planning process that prioritizes multi-use and stakeholder collaboration?

We've done need surveys, and certainly we are an under-served area of L.A. County. We aren't a city of our own and, as such, the school district is the center of the universe for a lot of our families. We have the regular K-8 education in place, but we've gone to both ends of the spectrum. That is to say, we started going below kindergarten into the preschool arena because we knew our kids could use the extra time in class in order to arrive to kindergarten with a better opportunity to succeed.

We looked at high school—and a number of our kids were not graduating from high school—we started looking at the charter high school as an opportunity to make sure that our kids graduated through the use of smaller, more personalized high schools. And then we went even below the preschool as a second step, because we found through our Healthy Start center that prenatal care, prenatal education, and then that very valuable age of 0 to 3, before they even get into our preschool program, was something that our parents were clamoring for, especially in language development and motor development.

It's a community need that was assessed, and any way that we can meet those needs, we go about doing it, whether it be by our own means, through applications for grants, or applications to state programs. We are very aggressive in trying to obtain funds to meet those needs.

Given the scarcity of public funding for holistic planning of integrated program services, what reforms do school districts need to make the planning of joint- and shared-use facilities easier and more replicable statewide?

We can meet within our own sphere of influence and come up with a number of ideas and thoughts. What is exciting about the process that NSBN provided us with was the opportunity to include other folks that generally cannot afford to come and join us in our facility planning conversations. Through NSBN's collaborative master planning effort the opportunities for shared and joint use expanded.

After we build the facility, it also would be helpful to have some money to continue to have these conversations in order to maintain the shared vision. Sometimes it works for a year or two, but if you don't continue to meet and maintain relationships with entities with whom you are collaborating, these projects can fail. I think the seed money is great, and then finding the money to do the work is a second step, but the third step would be to have funding to maintain and assure program collaboration.

What State Allocation Board reforms regarding access to the state school bond joint-use facilities monies might help Lennox accomplish its education goals and mandates?

As educators, we know that community centered, joint- and shared-use school facilities that holistically incorporate early education, recreation, health, and adult education, would certainly help us realize our educational mission better. As far as K-8 education goes, our facilities, for years, have been negatively impacted because we went from about 3,500 students in 1980 to a peak of about 7,400 students. We have more than doubled in size. But the size of the land didn't double; the size of the libraries didn't double; and, the size of the parking lots didn't double. The district and the community have a real problem with green space for recreation, and a real problem with off-street parking. Our schools in Lennox are used by the community year round, seven days a week, for soccer leagues and baseball leagues.

It would be great if the state, through the allocation of joint use bond funds, could provide capitol dollars to schools, especially ones that are in fact the centers of community in an unincorporated area, to build underground or two-story parking in order to save some land for green space. The same would be true with re-locatables, if not all of the re-locatables, that we just kept adding to our campuses.

If we could have money to build two-story stick frame buildings, we could grab back some of that green space. And then of course the libraries and auditoriums are undersized for the population of the schools. Last but not least, restrooms are a big issue. The restrooms are for the initial size of the school, not for facilities with double the capacity. Those are some of the facilities issues that are both directly and peripherally related to joint use.

You refered to the fact that the Lennox School District exists in an unincorporated area of Los Angles, and that your school campuses act as the center of community life. Larger school districts in metro Los Angeles, like LAUSD, do not typically assume that it is their duty to build anything but "seats"? How does Lennox's approach differ from that of the larger school districts that surround Lennox?

It would be hard for me to comment on a larger school district, but I can comment on what I think makes Lennox unique, and to the degree that it can be replicated it might be of use to other people.

We have a benefit and a downside to our district's size. In a little over a mile and three quarters square, we have a 7,000 preschool through eighth grade population. Because of the size of the district, and because of the lack of bureaucracy, decisions can be made quickly. We can get everybody we need to make a decision in the room at the same time and the same place. We can get in our cars and within five minutes arrive at a site in order to look at the site and determine from a practical standpoint what needs to take place.

If I had to identify the one thing that has made so much of our progress possible, it's that Lennox staff and parents don't put limits on their vision. And once that vision is out there, staff has permission to go out and try to find the means to make that vision a reality.

Once we get the wherewithal, we get together and make sure that all the roadblocks have been taken care of. Within the district it's a very collaborative effort, and I believe that it's the relationships and the small size of the district that makes all that possible.