We Asked You at the 2015 TASA/TASB Conference, and You Said_

VLK Architects has core values that exist in order to continually remind us of our purpose. With client-focused service, and a commitment to innovation in order to improve, we collaborate to perpetually inform our practice. With these attributes as our catalyst, we sought opinions of attendees at the 2015 TASA/TASB Convention in Austin, Texas.

Our Study

We randomly sampled both clients and non-clients consisting of superintendents, district senior level staff, and school board members. Our survey, designed to be completed within one minute, consisted of three questions regarding curriculum and instruction, facilities design, and architecture services. Participants selected the one answer that most reflected their opinion regarding each of the three questions. The research question, a simple analysis of responses, and possible considerations follow.

Curriculum and Instruction

'' Question: When you think of curriculum and instruction, which of the following is most important to you?

Class Size for Effective Delivery'''''''''''' ''''''''''''''''' 11%
Professional Learning for Teachers'''''''''' '''''''''''''''''' 9%''
Student Engagement''''''''''''''''''''''''' ''''''''''''''''' 46%
Meeting State/District Accountability Goals''''''''''''''''''' 7%
Finding Solutions for Students to be Successful''''''''''''' 28%

Overwhelmingly, 46% of respondents revealed that Student Engagement is most important when they think of curriculum and instruction. This response aligns with our existing belief that the purposeful spaces we design should foster student engagement and suggests an additional opportunity to explore the interactions between students and the built environment.

Facilities Design

'' Question: What is the one most important aspect you consider in facilities design?

Initial Construction Costs'''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' 6%'''
Alignment with Community Values and Expectations''''''''''' 12%
Support of 21st Century Learning'''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' 47%
Long-term Maintenance and Operations Costs''''''''''''''''''15%
Safety and Security'''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' 19%

When asked to consider facilities design, 47% of respondents indicated that design that Supports 21st Century Learning was most important. This result surprised us, as often, discussion on facilities design is rooted in conversations around construction costs, maintenance of buildings, and safety and security. With a recent focus on House Bill 5, and the requirements surrounding local accountability measures that have been created in each district across Texas, it seems a shift may be occurring with the need to acknowledge and support 21st Century learning environments in order to better address parental involvement, the arts, health and wellness, etc.

Architecture Services

'' Question: When considering architecture services, what is the one most important attribute?

Reputation and Customer Service''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' 22%
Design that Supports District Curriculum and Instruction'''''' 12%
Project Delivery within Budget'''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' ' 21%
Listening/Responding to District Needs'''''''''''''''''''''''''' 34%

Responses were more balanced when respondents answered this final question in the survey. While one response received a clear majority, two additional options must not be dismissed. When considering architecture services, 34% of respondents selected Listening/Responding to District Needs as the most important attribute. We recognize this splayed result indicates that districts need a wide range of tailored services that allows them to address unique circumstances.

Reflections

As a firm, we study current instructional methodologies in order to support the design process. We recognized that a strand of our possible responses could be tied together. Specifically, we wondered if the responses we received would support Student Engagement, 21st Century learning, and Curriculum and Instruction, respectively. What we found is that two of the three majority responses did reflect the bias that we anticipated. What does this mean? Perhaps our participants have varying degrees of understanding when considering these three concepts. We chose not to define the attributes upfront, as we wanted to gauge opinion as well as leave room for interpretation.

While participants took the survey, it was interesting to see the facial expressions and questions we received. Most often than not, participants would look to us and ask, 'You mean I have to pick ONE of these choices' We received feedback that the survey was difficult in the fact that it forced participants to prioritize attributes, as they viewed all as important. This gives us additional information to consider as we design and support clients. Balance between many factors must be achieved to produce the best projects.

Where we go from here_

Over the next few weeks, VLK Architects will continue to analyze the three questions independently and publish results. Future research will need to be taken to further address similar concepts at professional learning venues. As a firm, we ask for feedback in order to monitor our design practice by considering the opinions of Texas school leaders as we work to design the most innovative solutions for our clients, while continually building relationships and trust.