High schools’ 
design amended

Describing the original design of the Cayman’s new high schools as a “futuristic experiment”, Minister of Education Rolston Anglin outlined changes undertaken to bring the schools in line with more traditional planning.

Among the revamp from the original design for the John Gray and Clifton Hunter high schools, Mr. Anglin said an open-plan classrooms design has been scrapped and that security measures have been increased.

The education minister said the original design did not adequately met the needs of the students or the teachers at the schools and “defied logic and judgment”.

He said he had taken the design changes to educators, parents and students, whom he said were relieved “they were not made to conform to a futuristic experiment where the form of these buildings wholly dictated its function”.

Outlining the modifications at a meeting of the Legislative Assembly last week, Mr. Anglin described how in the original design, science and art were to be taught at the same time in a large open area.

“I am told that our educators were informed that this was a concept Da Vinci area where the separate subject lines were merged in an attempt to recreate ‘renaissance learning’. To our collective knowledge, nowhere else in the world teaches science and art in the same room at high school level, for the obvious reasons of noise infiltration and the products of science experiments interfering with neighbouring classes,” Mr. Anglin said.

He added: “Both science and art have changed significantly, I suggest, since the times of Leonardo Da Vinci.”

Dedicated space

Science laboratories have now been dedicated to teaching science with art classes rehoused in separate facilities within a Design and Technology building, he said.

He added that the modified design had tried to change the “open learning” environment of the original plan, which he described as “schools without classrooms” where different teachers and classes of students were in full view and hearing of one another in large open spaces.

That design included erecting walls or partitions, with a gap of 4 feet, at the top of each, as required by the fire codes. “The changes we have brought in will not enable my ministry to deliver completely acoustically separate learning spaces withing the academies, but we have added as close to them as we can,” the minister said.

Mr. Anglin described the security of the school campuses as falling “below the present levels expected at our high schools” in the original plans which included a perimeter with a three-and-a-half-foot high picket fence around three sides at the rear and no enclosure at the front. He said the CCTV system did not cover the perimeter areas, but was mainly focused within campus buildings.

That has been changed to include a six-foot-high chain link fence with CCTV focused at the front of the building where the fence may not extend, Mr. Anglin told lawmakers.

Curriculum addition

Home economics would also be added to the curriculum at the schools, he said. “No real provision for the teaching of home economics, as a life skills and examination subject, despite a design for commercial kitchens at each site that cost around $750,000 each,” he said.

Mr. Anglin described the original plan for cookery classes as students learning alongside professional caterers in the commercial kitchens, while providing meals for fellow pupils.

“Apart from the safety aspects, it is difficult to envisage how the teaching of skills would have been accommodated within this scenario,” he said.

The redesigned schools will also include “behaviour intervention areas” where the government’s national behaviour and discipline strategy would be implemented.

Mr. Anglin said that under this strategy, suspensions of students and incidents of serious indiscipline had been reduced by more than 60 per cent, meaning that by the end of October, eight students had been suspended in 2010 from Years 10 through 12, compared to 35 in 2009 and 51 in 2008.

“This is not schools going soft on discipline, but a focus on de-escalation, keeping the students in school rather than excluding them from all learning environments.”

In response to a question from the former minister of education, Alden McLauglin, Mr. Anglin said the Clifton Hunter school was expected to be completed between September and December this year and John Grey between September 2012 and September 2013.

He said would later give an update relating to the phased completion of the schools.


  1. Open classrooms originated in California in the 1970s, and it wasnt long afterwards that they realized they were an abysmal failure. But not before several schools right across North America had built open concept schools. Despite the fact they were a failure — noise levels extremely high, too many distractions, too much activity going around for kids to concentrate, problems showing films (and today it would be DVDs). Teachers hated it. Kids loved it — not because they were learning, but because they could interact more with their friends. It took schools 10 or 20 years after that to be able to afford to build the dividing walls and scrap the open concept everywhere they could. This is not a new idea — but it was already proven to be a bad idea. How did it ever get so far in the planning? With todays kids, more emphasis has to be made on focussing. Media innundates them with images at a very high speed. Todays films change angles approximately every 3-5 seconds. Kids get bored with older films because the shots are longer, more time is spent on character development, etc. We are not doing them a service by teaching in an environment where so much activity is going on, not even related to what subject they are studying. This is counterproductive to learning. If the architects want to be creative then do it in places such as the foyer, the cafeteria and the exterior design of the building. Thank God Mr. Anglin was smart enough to stop this before it was built.

  2. Open area classrooms are not a futuristic experiment. I attended a high school designed with open learning areas and no walls in 1977. I do however agree that this type of design is a luxury for Cayman public schools and the traditional environment for education still creates the best foundation for advanced learning.

  3. As the planning and design consultant for these schools I can assure you that the Minister has grossly misrepresented the facts. This is NOT an open classroom school design. It is a SMALL LEARNING COMMUNITY MODEL. The SLC Model has been successfully developed across the globe — see fieldingnair.com and designshare.com for dozens of award-winning international examples. SLCs provide a variety of open and closed teaching and learning spaces to match the richer variety of teaching and learning experiences that a 21st Century education demands. Shame on the Minister and his education establishment for spending millions to build a 20th century school in the 21st century. This will deny Cayman kids the competitive advantage they need to be successful global citizens. Google me and you will get my contact details — call me if you want the real story. Prakash Nair President FNI

  4. One more clarification — The DaVinci Studio is an interdisciplinary space that can be set up either as a science lab an art studio or for inter-disciplinary projects that have both science and art components to them. Since there are many SLCs, each DaVinci studio can have its own special character and these can be shared across the school. The SLC is ideal for interdisciplinary projects and learning. There are numerous opportunities for specialized science programs in the Design Art and Technology Center as well. So, once again, you have the Minister repeating his education departments misrepresentations. These schools were designed by a different, more forward-thinking administration with extensive community input — something that this article does not mention at all. This administration is taking the easy way out which is to keep doing what has failed miserably for the children of Cayman Islands in the past. I hope the good citizens of Cayman will take the time to understand the history and facts behind the world class designs that are being destroyed and not buy the propaganda they are being fed that this represents an improvement.

  5. A personal perspective…
    While attending a progressive, open campus high school in the 1970s, non-students entered the building between class changes. They were wandering the hallways and blending in with the students. They were opening unsecured lockers and looking for items to steal. While standing in front of my locker, a student exclaims, Hey, what are you doing. Thats my locker. At that moment, the student was attacked by the intruders, knocked down and kicked until unconscious. The intruders then exited the building.
    My point…
    Yes, a three-and-a-half-foot high picket fence psychologically provides an idealised environment for learning, but the revised version of including a six-foot-high chain link fence with CCTV focused at the front of the building provides a practical, but sad to say, real-world solution…

  6. I was dismayed to read the report of a redesign – and implied criticism – of the world class new schools. Minister Anglins description of the designs as a futuristic experiment and misguided reference to open plan reveals a depressing ignorance.

    Far from being futuristic, the school designs take the best of what is already effective, proven, existing practice in countries from Australia to the UK, from Scandinavia to the USA. The spaces provided for learning are agile, will be future-proof, will significantly increase engagement and will allow teachers and learners to perform substantially better, in all aspects of their education.

    Open plan schools belong in the 1960s, the small learning communities (SLCs) we designed for the children of Cayman Islands belong in this century. The DaVinci Studios are not an attempt to recreate renaissance learning, they are already adopted and working effectively in schools all around the world, of course.

    When the previous minister, Hon Alden McLaughlin, presented the plans to a world audience of education ministers and leaders representing some 75% of the worlds children they were greeted with widespread approval, and considerable envy. In the UK the Building Schools for the Future programme has now produced many schools similar to the Caymanian designs and these are already working effectively with remarkable results. I am privileged to visit them regularly.

    Minister Anglin comments that it is difficult to envisage how the teaching of skills would have been accommodated within this scenario. Personally, I simply do not understand why his lack of vision should be used as an excuse to politicise education, and to waste scarce money ruining a world class school design built on proven precepts.

    Education is not simple, and is full of complex choices. The damage proposed to these designs will impact negatively on the whole complex system, and a generation who might have emerged as world class learners are in danger of being condemned to a life as second class citizens.

    Surely someone can stop this madness?

Comments are closed.