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Community Learning Centers

Redesigning schools to dramatically increase learning
by Dr. Wayne Jennings
Download Article (PDF format, 130 kb)

Introduction by Randall Fielding

wayne jenningsWayne B. Jennings, Chair of the International Association for Learning Alternatives, works to provide a greater range of education choices for students. For over fifty years, he has served as a teacher, principal, superintendent, professor and school board member. He has authored several books and numerous articles in education. He believes all students are gifted with powerful brains and it is the school’s responsibility to present learning environments that promote their gifts.

The concept of schools as community centers has been a hot topic for more than 100 years. In 1902, John Dewey described a vital relationship between the civic, business, university and residential community in The School and Society and the Child and the Curriculum. What distinguishes Wayne Jennings’ article from the scores of articles published on the subject is that it goes beyond the theory, and tells us how to plan, budget, staff, design, and maintain community learning centers.

Wayne Jennings has five decades of experience in education, and yet his approach has the freshness of a passionate idealist, fresh from the university. The model that Wayne describes is not an improved version of the old model, but a completely different concept of education. He is not writing about incremental change, but systemic change, and in his sphere of influence, the “bells and cells” factory model of education expired long ago.

Wayne’s creative vision has given birth to dozens of real schools, so we are not left to ponder about what works and what’s a wild idea. His work was instrumental in the development of the EdVisions Cooperative, which has launched dozens of schools around the US, and trained thousands of teachers. I have had the opportunity to serve as the planner and design architect for many EdVisions schools, including Avalon School, Hip-Hop High (High School for Recording Arts), Sage Academy, River Heights High School, and Harbor City International School, and seen the model in action first hand.

The man behind the comprehensive approach to education described in Community Learning Centers has a vibrant personal presence. The story of Hip-Hop High’s launch is a good illustration of Wayne in action. Five years ago, David Ellis, a former student of Wayne’s at Saint Paul Open School, found himself with a coterie of high school “lost boys” and dropouts hanging out at his recording studio at all hours of the day and night. David called Wayne to talk about the situation, and Wayne came over the same day. In record time, a new district was formed, and a new community learning center was founded. Wayne serves as the superintendent for Hip-Hop high, and at a recent visit, I noticed that every student and advisor that we encountered knew him personally!

At another meeting that I attended with Wayne at Great River School in Saint Paul, (the first Montessori High School in Minnesota), there was a good deal of tension about the construction budget and schedule. Wayne’s presence had a calming effect on all of the participants. He used words sparingly, but gave each participant his full attention. We all came away from the meeting feeling that the project would move ahead. Wayne’s vision of community learning centers is moving forward as well, with new Community Learning Centers springing up at an accelerating pace.

On behalf of the DesignShare community, I’d like to thank Wayne for sharing this publication with us, and for five decades of innovation in education.

Randall Fielding is a partner at Fielding Nair International, an award-winning school/university planning and design firm with offices in New York, Minneapolis and Madison. Randy is also the founder and editorial director of DesignShare. He can be reached at: or visit the FNI website at

February 28th, 2006

DesignShare publications are submitted by designers, university professors, architects, planning consultants, educators, technologists, futurists, and ecologists. Publications include podcasts, detailed case studies, conference proceedings, interviews, original research, editorials, thesis projects, and practical design guidelines.


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