Comprehensive, Not Vocational

Quincy High School
Quincy, Massachusetts

Quincy High School was failing.

It had a fractured, but arbitrary, separation of its vocational/technical and academic programs, creating two distinct and unequal social groups. It was thought of as a “trade” school, compared to the more college-preparatory North Quincy High School. It also had a combative relationship with its residential neighbors on one side and a struggling downtown on the other. Adjacent wetlands and a coastal flood plain complicated any architectural or urban design interventions.

Transformation

The notion of the simple vocational/technical school has become increasingly anachronistic. Regardless of their anticipated career path, it is imperative for students to maintain a balance of social, academic, and vocational skills that will allow them to be meaningful contributors in the 21st century. The dramatically reprogrammed and redesigned Quincy High School achieves this goal via a combination of conceptually powerful “academies,” with a layout and design that not only supports the new educational mission, but is also a resource for the entire community.

Bridging the Gap

The physical plan comprised a building for academics and another for vocational courses, the two separated by a heavily trafficked roadway linked only by an overhead pedestrian bridge. This apartheid fractured the physical and social campuses, exacerbated the cultural split between academic and technical learning, and undermined any natural interaction among academic and technical students and faculty.

Ready for Change

In the late 1990s/early 2000s, Quincy High School leadership and faculty developed new educational paradigms emphasizing interdisciplinary learning and the integration of theoretical and hands-on concepts. While effective, a full re-focus toward a unified academic/vocational program was continually stymied by the layout and condition of the buildings and campus. After a school-wide school facilities assessment, Quincy High was designated for renovation or replacement.

The City embarked on an extended course of evaluation over several mayoral administrations. This eventually resulted in a general set of guidelines for the school as a building that could actively facilitate academic integration and realize a vision for a new educational model.

Complete Collaboration

The administration, superintendent, and educational programmer/architect selected to design the new facility focused the final planning effort, incorporating a decade of public discussions and decisions from past initiatives, priorities from the faculty’s 21st century education program, and the City’s stipulation that the school remain at its downtown location. Importantly, the concept of a “series of academies,” of blurring the lines between academic and vocational/technical study and of powerful adjacencies keyed to a model for 21st century learning, emerged.

Solutions

The decision was made to build a completely new adjacent school and remain in downtown Quincy, using the project as a catalyst for civic renewal. It would be nothing less than the reinvention of an educational model enabled by architecture and urban design. A conceptually powerful series of “Academies of Excellence” was envisioned: a Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) Academy; a Humanities Academy; a Fine Arts Academy; and a Freshman Academy. Adjacencies were programmed to foster interaction among both students and faculty, as well as to forge cross-disciplinary alliances.

By arranging public spaces like the gymnasium, cafeteria, and auditorium near the courtyard and main entry, student interaction was invigorated.

The separation of the academic and the vocational was erased, realizing true project-based learning in all disciplines. Quincy High School is now part of a civic renaissance in a post-industrial and traditionally working-class Northeastern city.

As a result of this project, you walk around and everyone is so cheerful. To me, that makes a major difference.

— Frank Santoro, Principal, Quincy High School

Results

Learning programs at the new Quincy High School are unlike those found in most traditional public high schools, reflecting a range of goals for various learner groups. Results of the design included:

  • A stanching of the years-long attrition of students from Quincy High School
  • A renewed focus on academic excellence, with a record 200 students participating in the state science fair; several students achieving perfect SAT scores; a fourth-place showing, out of 51 teams, in the Boston University Robotics Competition; the History Bowl team reaching the national competition in Washington, DC
  • Teams taking on interdisciplinary projects bridging subjects as diverse as earth science, marine science, biology, carpentry, and plumbing.
  • Demonstrably increased staff volunteerism and community use of school facilities after hours
  • A new high school contributing markedly to the revitalization of downtown Quincy
  • The emergence of Quincy High School as the premier provider of secondary education in the City of Quincy