Backstory: How the Collaborative High School Campus Model Happened

Designing the Collaborative High School Campus Model sounds like quite an adventure, right? In the beginning, it wasn’t. I researched architects and then summoned the courage to call and schedule a meeting with a reputable architectural firm. Imagine my surprise when the CEO, who happened to answer the phone, graciously granted me time to meet with him to discuss my vision of a new high school.


At that time, I was imagining one mega-size high school building. So, in preparation for our meeting, I searched and found several images of a state-of-the-art high school building his firm designed and constructed in an urban community. Having a one-dimensional school building in mind, that particular design was a replica of what I thought I wanted. Looking back, I was so naïve. Still, I felt fortunate that my inquiries were taken seriously—at least, that was how it seemed, though this very renowned architect and CEO may have found my presence quite amusing.

Since I arrived with printed photos of his exquisitely designed school, our entire conversation centered on the nuts and bolts of what it took to get that project done from start to finish. I sat and carefully listened to every word uttered. While I earnestly took notes, the CEO described the process and costs associated with the initial phase of creating a draft of the building’s blueprint. When he began detailing the dimensions and cost per square foot for a building of thousands of square feet, my jaw dropped. Then he proceeded to inform me I would need to procure grants involving huge sums of money—just for creating the blueprint of whatever model I might have in mind.


He was fairly astute with reading his audience; he probably noticed my eyes glazing over during the revelations related to costs. My gradual decline in enthusiasm likely reached an all-time low when he turned to the subject of writing grants and fundraising. Perhaps it was the pause in the movement of my pen that signaled what I was thinking: This is starting to feel like an overwhelming enterprise. Whatever it was, I breathed a mental sigh of relief when he began to wrap up the session. Of course, I thanked him for his time and let him know it had been a very informative discussion. I recall feeling a bit deflated as I walked away. In hindsight, though, I couldn’t be more grateful for the dousing of cold water.

As I left the architect’s office, several thoughts occurred to me, the first being, Well, that didn’t go so well. But I thought it was useful to listen and learn from an expert. He helped me conclude that what I heard was not what I wanted. When I discovered I had a new blank canvas on which to reimagine a different version of the collaborative high school, my disappointment was replaced with a sense of excitement. Since I never intended to actually build a school, I was able to find clarity about what I truly wanted: a visual illustration of my 21st-century high school model.

Convincing others of my intentions was a bit of a challenge. Initially, responses came in the form of a smile or polite chuckles. But gradually the polite smiles and chuckles transformed into looks of genuine perplexity followed by, “Wait . . . are you serious?” To which I replied, “Oh, yes! I’m quite serious.” Of course, I had no idea about the enormity of the task before me or how long it would take to achieve something so monumental. I was just so gratified and honored when Juho Lee agreed to illustrate my model and when Cindy Severino joined the project to create the video. Collectively, we rolled up our sleeves to bring a not-so-simple idea to fruition. Ultimately, we persisted—thanks to our mutual belief that if we proceeded down this path, we would eventually create something remarkable.