FIRST LOOK - New Lake Washington High School (video)

Academic houses create home base for students

Large comprehensive high schools have the advantage of being able to offer more academic and extracurricular options. With 1000 or more students, the odds of finding 30 or more students willing to sign up for Robotics Engineering 2 or for Music Theory are much greater. However, the larger the school, the more likely that some students may not feel connected to the school or their teachers. The new Lake Washington High School (LWHS) in Kirkland, is designed to create connection within a large comprehensive high school.

During planning for the new building, a modernization team of teachers and the former principal visited high schools that were applying best practices, through small school initiatives, magnet schools and other programs. After research and analysis, the team developed a house model. Students will share the same group of teachers for their whole high school career, like in a small school setting, but still will benefit from the offerings of a big, comprehensive high school. They will take their core courses within their assigned house but may go to other houses for electives or advanced offerings.

“Typically, in a big high school, students would just go to different subject areas every period and it would be an isolated teacher working with them,” said Christina Thomas, LWHS principal. “In the house system, the teachers really work in collaboration to meet the needs of the students. They start to understand what skill sets the students come in with and how they can improve the students’ skill sets so students have less opportunity to fall between the cracks.”

The building design features four academic houses with a fifth house for Northstar Junior High, a Choice school located on-campus. The four houses are located in two groupings of classrooms and offices each on two stories of the main school building. The library in the middle of the school provides a central commons area to bring together the four houses.

Each of the four houses contains six core curriculum classrooms with individual staff offices around a large shared instructional space. Also in each house are Biology- and Chemistry-capable science classrooms and classrooms for elective programs that may draw students from throughout the school. The science and elective classrooms are closer to the center of the building, so that students who may be coming to that house for a particular elective can reach the classrooms easily.

Some of the elective classrooms are designed for the needs of specific subjects. A culinary arts classroom is equipped with professional stoves and a large walk-in refrigerator, for example.

Other features at LWHS include a large cafeteria and performing arts center, both of which are designed to enhance collaboration and bring groups of people together. The counseling center is located right off of the central commons, next to the cafeteria. This accessibility is designed to encourage students to seek career and college information during their lunch hours.

The building also includes a number of sustainable features, which are also designed to save money and maintenance. A large solar panel array will generate enough electricity to power about six classrooms. The geo-thermal heating system will reduce energy needs for heating and cooling. Other features include low flow toilet fixtures, generous use of daylight, exterior sun shields and recycled and renewable materials.