The first plans for the new Staples building had straight hallways. That way, we could see the shooter from afar. It was a response to Columbine, the high school horror that occurred a couple of years earlier– 10 years ago today.
Wiser heads prevailed. Long halls in a school this size would have been architecturally grim — and educationally gruesome. Students learn best in an atmosphere of openness and trust, not one modeled on a jail.
Staples is not perfect — architecturally or educationally — but it works pretty well. And one of the reasons the new building is such a success is because — despite its scale — it acknowledges that its primary focus is on people. It is light, modern and personal.
That focus is seen in many ways. Staples has come a long way from the us-against-them environment created by previous principals. For years, the school was criticized for a lack of personalization. John Dodig has made it a high priority — and it’s working.
He, his assistant principals and grade level assistants are visible presences all day long, throughout the school. They know the vast majority of students — not just the valedictorian and troublemakers. Teachers reach out to classes via personal meetings and web pages. Guidance counselors, an outreach worker, nurses — all are proactive, not reactive. Nearly every student knows at least one teacher, coach or staff member they can talk to, and trust.
Could Columbine happen here?
Perhaps. No place on earth is immune from dysfunction. But countless people at Staples have made an enormous effort to ensure that our school will not breed disaffected, rage-filled killers.
And one of the important decisions was creating human-scale, gently curving halls.