Charter School Patterns of Innovation: A New Architecture for a New Education

The Building Better Communities (BBC) Fellows program is an immersive teaching and learning opportunity offered to selected students and faculty at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, and funded in part by the Lilly Endowment Inc. The program enables students to become engaged with community partners throughout the state of Indiana in a research and service learning activity. Students from various disciplines and their faculty-mentor work with real-world problems so they may begin to understand and provide solutions for the community partners’ needs. Each project offered through BBC is an interdisciplinary endeavor, which allows students from different backgrounds, skills, and expertise to learn from and work with each other.

This Building Better Communities project, Charter Schools Patterns of Innovation, was developed to research and understand the unique ways charter schools operate. Because charter schools have more freedom in how they teach, each school can take a different focus with its curriculum as long as it still meets the state’s standards. This means the traditional school facility standards may not work well to foster the learning environment that will reinforce this focus. This project was created with the goal of developing “design patterns” to facilitate charter schools when planning, renovating, and/or designing their educational environment.

This guidebook was developed as a compilation of research work completed by the BBC Fellows and faculty mentor, with the hope that it will become a useful tool to actively engage school administration, designers, communities, and businesses in the development of charter schools. The information provided is meant to foster ideas and engage in discussion about how an educational facility can work to help meet the goals of each unique school. These ideas can go beyond simply providing shelter for teaching and learning, to utilizing the building as a tool for teaching and learning, to creating an image of the educational environment that creates pride in the students and a presence in the community, to identifying ways to supplement the school’s facility funding needs.

By looking at “best practices” throughout the nation, we give an idea of the creative ways a variety of charter schools and other public and private schools have addressed the needs of curriculum, facility, and funding. By partnering with and profiling Indiana charter schools, we give a better understanding of the local challenges and opportunities our state charter schools face. Finally, we offer some architecture student design projects as case studies and design recommendations that allow the patterns we have developed to be brought to life.

This BBC project took place during the Fall 2010 semester, through the Spring 2012 semester, to refine, develop, and expand what was started, as charter schools and education continue to change. This information is meant to help individuals developing new charter schools or improving existing ones to gain a better understanding of the importance their facility can play in the success of their charter school.