Growing Pains: Community Engagement and the Impact of Unique Pedagogy During Planning and Design Development


North Tower - 1st Floor - Garden 4

  • Primary Core Competencies: Community Engagement
  • AIA CEU: 1. 0 LU
  • Secondary Core Competencies: Design of Educational Facilities


Pedagogy is critical to establishing the programming, planning, and design for any school project. When a pedagogy is unique within its district, additional research, focus groups, and discussions from the outset of design development ensure project priorities are established and all stakeholders’ needs are included. Buy-in of the community, school personnel, and students is crucial to long-term project success. In this presentation, we explore several methodologies related to approaches and timing for engaging community stakeholders as well as integration of stakeholder priorities into project planning. Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) has implemented unique pedagogies for two elementary schools. One is the first public Montessori school in the state. The other is among the few language-immersion schools in the Tulsa area. Both were developed with thoughtful engagement with constituents but in two very different ways. Our presentation will explore methods of community engagement, using these two schools as case studies, and share the lessons we learned through the different approaches. Emerson Montessori, a gut and remodel of an existing building plus an addition, opened in August 2018 in an underserved community in North Tulsa. The architectural team and district worked together to include the community group—a highly-engaged staff, the neighborhood association, and parent groups—in planning the facility. Based on community feedback, TPS decided to phase in the Montessori training for the staff which meant the building planning and design had to work for the district’s traditional standards as well as become the model for the district’s new standards related to Montessori education. The neighborhood group prioritized building aesthetics (to fit within the neighborhood context) as well as the programming and services being offered (including aftercare and other partnerships). Eisenhower International School entailed a full gut and remodel of an existing unoccupied middle school which was repurposed for relocating the established and successful TPS elementary language-immersion magnet program. In addition to the customary programming and planning meetings with the administration and faculty, the design team engaged the highly-invested PTA, first, to address programming, then in the design process to visualize the remodel. For this project, meetings illuminated the differing priorities of the school and the PTA and established areas of tensions needing to be addressed as well as areas of common ground. KKT led the many stakeholders: school staff, School Community, neighborhood groups, and district leaders through a series of design meetings that brought all constituent voices to the table, and resulted in project success. The timing for engagement with stakeholders at both schools provide lessons learned for proactive communications.

Learning Objectives

OBJ #1  DISCUSS methods and timing of collaboration with your client (or school district) to IDENTIFY project stakeholders, both internal (teachers, administration, and students) and external (parents, neighborhood association groups, and the general public).

OBJ #2  EVALUATE and DEVELOP tools to engage effectively with various stakeholders.

OBJ #3  ABILITY to evaluate the best timing for engaged discussions with community stakeholders during the programming, planning, and interior design of a public school entity.

OBJ #4  DISCOVER examples of unique programming and planning opportunities that can be inspired by community-engagement stakeholder meetings during the design phase via case study examples.

Sarah Gould, AIA, A4LE, Owner, KKT Architects, Inc.

Emily Hutton, Director, Tulsa Public Schools

Liz Rohrbacker, IIDA, ALEP, Principal, KKT Architects, Inc.