new vista
architectural projects

South Gate High School
Los Angeles, CA 2005-2008
In collaboration with Architects of Achievement and HMC Architects

South Gage High School is one of over 45 of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) comprehensive high schools slated for reconfiguration into more personalized and focused Small Learning Communities (SLCs) as part of a district-wide initiative to address its failing schools. The 3,400 student school is a wonderful example of the power of SLCs to transform a large, anonymous, and under-perfoming school into a network of vibrant, thoughtful, and increasingly successful small school environments . . . both programmatically and physically.

New Vista’s David Stephen partnered for three years with the Seattle-based consulting firm Architects of Achievement, and the California-based architectural firm HMC to create feasibility studies and SLC plans for over 20 LAUSD high schools. In the process, he also worked directly with each school’s administrators, teachers, and students to envision their new campuses and small school programs. Addionally, he worked with schools to develop branding materials, such as logos and environmental graphics, which helped to give each school focus and identity.

Given a startlingly low high school graduation rate of less than 45%, and based on research into the efficacy of smaller schools, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) decided to break down each of its large high schools into spatially and administratively autonomous small schools of approximately 350-500 students. Like many of the district’s high schools, South Gate decided that each of its eight small schools would forge its own identity, aligned-but-not limited to areas of focus and academic pursuit such as Math & Science, Communications, Performing Arts, etc.

Each small school was given a renovation budget of approximately half a million dollars with which to reorganize itself into a smaller, contiguous, and personalized learning environment. South Gate’s SLCs became, in effect, distinct neighborhoods on the larger school campus, each comprised of its own entry area, adjoining classroom spaces, distributed administrative functions, teacher workrooms and workspaces, and indoor and outdoor community gathering space. SLC color themes, environmental graphics, and identity branding also contributed to the creation of more coherent and friendly small school environments, something which has been shown to improve student success both the socially and academically.

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