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Multiplex schools

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By Linda Jacobson

What are the challenges or disadvantages to a multiplex?

Students, teachers, and parents naturally compare their schools to others in the district. In such close quarters, these comparisons could become conflicts if one school on site is considered to be better, have more resources, or higher test scores than others.

“You want kids to be proud of their school,” says Molly McCloskey, the managing director of the Whole Child Initiative for the ASCD, a membership organization for educational leaders. “But when that tips over into disproportionate competition, there is the potential for it to get dicey.”

Conflicts might also arise over a school’s differing policies or practices. What if one school, McCloskey suggests, has open enrollment for Advanced Placement classes, but others don’t? What if one school requires uniforms and another doesn’t? What if the teachers in one school prefer students to call them by their first names and the student-teacher relationship is more formal in the other schools? What if a group of teachers from one school is sent to a training conference in sunny Miami and teachers in another school haven’t been to a conference in three years? What if there is an older part of the building and shiny, new expansion — which school gets which space? Issues like these might cause minimal grumbling in a single school, but under the same roof, things can escalate into something more ugly.

Managing access to common areas could also become challenging if the cafeteria is small or if one school is planning a spring theater production and needs the auditorium for rehearsals at the same time another school usually uses the space for PE. Scheduling can be hard enough in a school with one student body.

Issues of discipline and student behavior might also arise. How does a teacher or administrator from one school respond if he or she sees students from another school breaking the rules? What if one school allows students to use their cell phones during lunch or class changes and another school confiscates phones if they are taken out of the backpack?

What else should parents consider?

Even though a principal in a multi-school site is the leader of just her individual school, the extent to which she collaborates with the other principals on the campus can determine the success of this arrangement and whether there is a plan in place to avoid or respond to the types of challenges and rivalries mentioned above.

Regardless of the unique aspects of their school, principals in a multiplex need to work together to establish an overall school climate and culture, McCloskey says. They need to discuss and establish which spaces and programs — such as sports, band, or after-school classes — will be shared by students from all of the schools, as well as which rules and policies will be applied campus-wide.

Do the principals look for ways to create unity among students, staff members and parents, either through school colors, joint events, or decision-making committees? It’s important for parents to talk to others who have children that have attended a school in this type of arrangement to get a sense of the day-to-day routine and environment.

Parents should also be aware that in a multiplex, it’s possible for an impressionable kindergartener to be attending school at the same site as a middle school or high school student, such as the Brown School in Louisville, KY. Likewise, the parent of a high school student might feel her child is more limited in some way because of attending school with younger children. While the separate schools are likely in different areas of the campus, there is still bound to be some interaction.

Final words of advice on multiplex schools

Ultimately, McCloskey says, parents should always ask the same five questions about any school their child attends — whether it’s big, small, or somewhere in between. Is my child healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged? As with any school you're considering, the best way to get an idea if it's a good fit for your child is to visit it first (and if your child is in middle or high school make sure he visits as well).

Linda Jacobson is a freelance education writer who lives in Southern California.

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