When great design works, it is a beautiful thing. Most of us think about design as sketches that lead to a product. Designers know that it is really a process of identifying the best solution for an important challenge, which is exactly, in my humble opinion, why the newly announced Senior School of Kingsway College School just west of downtown Toronto sets a high bar for fantastic educational design.
Three years ago, KCS decided to engage in a year-long challenge to see if they could realize their decades-long dream of opening a senior school where their progressive preK-8 traditions could round out a student’s pre-college experience. Toronto is a very competitive education market, and real estate costs are through the roof. Buying a big parcel for a traditional school with ball fields and expansive grounds was just not possible. And, more importantly, the visionary leadership at the school believed that, in the best Wayne Gretzky tradition, we should be “skating to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been”.
They launched a year-long process (in which I was brought in as a facilitator) to figure out just what the KCS community would most value in a new high school. We empowered five teams to deeply research pedagogy, learning pathways, community partnerships, physical spaces and locations, and more. Collectively those teams, without getting on an airplane, virtually visited dozens of schools and interviewed dozens of colleagues, putting together a massive shared document about what schools might be if we only allowed ourselves to dream.
They brought all of that together, filtered it through some market research, pragmatic financial models, and real estate searches, added a strong dash of courage, and last week, KCS announced they will open their new senior school in 2021, having secured two lower floors in this remarkable new complex, right on the shores of Lake Ontario, with access to the fourth-floor garden rooftop, and just steps from public transit. The school and its learning experience will be deeply embedded in the urban mixed-use setting. They are already building a rich set of partnerships where students will learn in real-world settings, driven by their interests and passions, embedded with more traditional course work. Very simply, the “school” will be the hub; the learning will take place both in the classroom and in and with the city itself. The physical layout of the school-hub will, I am certain, be strongly informed by other leading schools like Mt. Vernon in Atlanta, High Tech High in San Diego, Hobsonville Point in Auckland, Design 39 Campus in Poway, and the Downtown School at Lakeside School in Seattle.
I predict that they are not going to have much trouble filling seats in a school that is utterly tuned to “where the puck” of education is going, preparing our youth for a future that is absolutely already here.