Education Program Design and Land-Use Planning
Education Program Design
GDS has never primarily been about its facilities. We have no track—and yet our track teams consistently bring home championships. In school design, at least as far as GDS is concerned, form has always followed function. From the start, our emphasis has been on what happens in the classroom and on the magic of deep learning, insight, and discovery.
As a school we see this moment in our history as an opportunity to build on what we know works, even as we consider the capacities, knowledge, and skills our students will need to ride the whirlwind of change the future will bring. To help guide us in this process we have hired Wonder, by Design, a truly visionary education design firm led by architect Trung Le.
Le and his team were on campus last week meeting with parents and faculty to begin this process. Wonder, By Design began this exploration by asking us some vital, foundational questions: What are our non-negotiables? What makes GDS GDS? What distinguishes a GDS education from that provided by other schools? What don’t we have now that having in the future could be absolutely transformative to our children’s education and their ability to make a difference for good in the world?
Answering these questions will be essential to the design and development of our newly acquired physical spaces. I want to thank all of you who participated last week in our initial sessions. Wonder, By Design will be back on campus later this month to continue this conversation. Details to follow.
Land-Use Planning
Even as we are engaged in imagining the best possible educational future for GDS, we are turning our attention to the very practical considerations of land use. How can we maximize our properties to accommodate the School’s academic, athletic, artistic, and community needs? How do we balance the School’s needs with the appropriate and legitimate concerns of our Tenleytown neighbors? Can there be common spaces? If so what might they look like? What about parking and traffic flow? We will draw on the considerable expertise that exists within and outside the school community as we work with myriad government and neighborhood entities that will help make this project a reality.
As we mentioned in September, this part of the process is moving quickly by necessity. We anticipate that these two tracks will unfold in parallel until mid-winter. At that point the program design efforts will yield a set of recommendations that will inform the next stage and more tangible architectural design. We will also have much more information from our land-use discussions with the city and neighborhood. The combination of both will then inform our working with architects and planners over the late winter and early spring in order to begin to prepare more specific proposals that we will then discuss with the City and with the GDS and Tenleytown communities.
While we will know much more over the coming few months, we are also taking active steps right now to meet with our neighbors in the Tenleytown community. Specifically I and other members of the administration will be speaking with members of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) in the coming days; I will also host a second town hall–style meeting at GDS on November 19 for the neighborhood; and we are exploring whether we will know enough in December to provide an update at the December ANC public meeting.
Along the way, we will continue to adhere to the guiding principles, which can be read in the document included in the sidebar, developed by the Administration and affirmed by the Board to steward this process. These principals at core confirm that:
  • Our first commitment must be to the students and families we serve today;
  • This process needs to be both transparent and inclusive; and finally
  • This project must generate significant non-tuition revenue that can slow tuition increases and help GDS maintain its founding commitments to access and affordability.
I wish to close by underscoring the last point. As our Assistant Head of School Kevin Barr wrote to the alumni, “We did not buy these properties so that we could be land moguls or even to bring all of our hoppers onto one campus, although the latter is an exciting prospect. We purchased these properties (by borrowing the money) because having them allows for the construction of a financial model that will allow us to ensure that the School is affordable to a wide segment of the population. With the help of dedicated alumni and parents we will, in ten to fifteen years, have a significantly changed financial model, a model that ensures that GDS will be a school that keeps its doors wide open, provides extraordinary opportunities to students and families from all financial walks of life, and continues to produce students whose hearts, minds, and souls become touchstones for the kind of world our founding parents envisioned.”
While there are many benefits from this opportunity for GDS, fundamentally this is a mission-driven endeavor.
I wish you and yours all the best for the busy fall still ahead of us, and the holidays not so far away. Please keep an eye out for emails coming this week and next concerning our upcoming campus planning events. I hope to see many of you there and at other community events, and at any time feel free to reach out to me with your thoughts or questions.
Russell Shaw