Q&A: Long-Range Facilities Planning for ‘Familia and Comunidad’

Dr. Hilaria Bauer, superintendent of the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District, is leading a planning effort tackling a broad range of topics, from declining enrollment and better learning environments to workforce housing and equity.

In East San Jose, California, not far from Silicon Valley, Alum Rock Union Elementary School District is confronting many of the challenges facing urban schools around the country. Last year, the predominantly Latino district embarked on its first long-range planning effort in more than 20 years, exploring what the district campus environments would look like in the future.

For Alum Rock Superintendent Dr. Hilaria Bauer, the planning effort was a chance to go beyond leaky pipes and aging facilities to develop strategies to address long-standing issues around equity, student retention and the district’s connections to families and neighborhoods.

Why launch a long-range planning effort now?

We have an urgent need to address the building sites in a way that prepares our district for the future. We are building knowing that most of these facilities need to be good 50 years from now. We have to be very mindful about the way we are reconstructing the district from a facilities point of view.

What has worked well for you in this planning process?

The most exciting part has been the feedback we’ve been receiving from the different stakeholders. I’m particularly excited about students’ responses and learning more about what it is that they find important.

They are going to be the adults that are going to be using these facilities as professionals or as community members. I really hope that the students that are in our classrooms today are going to be the staff members of the district, and the parents who will send their kids to our district in the near future.

Long Range Facilities 1
Alum Rock Union Elementary School District students were active participants in the master planning workshop.

Is there anything that has surprised you about the feedback?
I was very happy to hear and a little bit surprised about the feedback around very different environments. Using the space outside the walls has become an important thing. For us, that means we need to be very strategic in terms of global warming. How do we design environments that are beyond the walls that are safe?

Something as simple as a playground, we really need to be very mindful about the kinds of materials that we’re going to select, the design elements and how we’re going to integrate shade so that it’s not something artificial.

What role did the community play in your master planning effort?

The community of Alum Rock is the driver of whatever happens in this district. I think that is the most salient part of this facilities plan. Although we are in a very urban environment — and we are in the middle of one of the largest hubs of innovation and technology in the world — we are in a neighborhood that is still very much a small community.

There is a “small town mentality,” with families who have been on this land for hundreds of years. Capturing that essence of familia, of comunidad, of neighbors and vecinos is very important — not only in the lessons and the academic knowledge that we impart in our classrooms, but the facilities themselves.

How does workforce housing fit into your long-term goals?

Workforce housing is a critical component of the bonds program. This is an area where the concept of comunidad and familia is disappearing with modernization all around the Bay Area. This workforce housing is almost like an introduction to the community that this is temporary housing with a purpose. We want to support those young professionals and young families by providing them with the ability to afford a comfortable home while they are also in the process of saving for their forever home.

How does broader facilities planning support the district’s larger goals?

The vision of the district is to have every student ready to participate in a diverse and competitive world. Every effort that we make is around equipping students to know that the world is a lot bigger than Alum Rock. Our students need to be able to embrace the concept of competition whether they are professionals in the social services area or professionals in the business or the technology world. The facilities plan is going to provide the type of environments that nurture these values in our students.