Managing runaway growth in a school

Sydney's rapidly growing north west will have a well resourced tech heavy school thanks to careful planning.
Jul 26, 2021
ACC has a master plan for its growth

This comes under the heading of good problems to have; ACC Marsden Park to Sydney’s north west is growing at an almost unprecedented rate.

Just over 12 months ago the school had experienced steady growth from 380 on campus students in Kindergarten to Year 12 to 425 students in two years. That is 10 per cent a year, a solid result but only a foretaste of what was about to happen.

“In the last 6 months we have grown to over 555 students on campus – that equates to 30% growth for the start of the new year," says ACC Marsden Park Principal, Brendan Corr.

“While it's exciting to be part of a growing community and while extra student numbers allow the College to offer more diverse experiences and options, such growth does present a number of challenges. Key amongst that is the need for more classrooms and play space.

Growing so rapidly also involves recruiting a large number of new teachers in a relatively short period of time.

“As a community that is focussed particularly on the character development of students undertaken in the context of uncommon care, assimilating new students and staff into the intended culture without diverting or diluting its core values and practices is always a particular challenge with so many coming from different backgrounds and experiences,” says Corr.

Rapid growth is wont to happen without warning and can catch you under prepared. In ACC Marsden Park’s case, The College Board was strategic in its appointments and planning decisions in the years leading up to the growth spurt. 

A large scale strategic plan for an expanded campus has ensured that facilities are well planned for to accommodate students and to provide appropriate specialist spaces for the type of technology rich curriculum the College is pursuing. This has been supported by conservative management of the College's budget for over a decade that enables it to purchase additional land and to implement state-of-the-art management, infrastructure, and learning technology to "future proof" the classrooms and the teaching practice.

“The strength of this planning has been that it has been consistently informed by a cohesive educational philosophy grounded in the faith base of the school's understanding of education and of community," Corr says.

The College has been strategic in appointing key practitioners that bring experience and expertise to a team approach. Local educational leaders, with close relationships to the parent and student bodies, work in close collaboration with industry experts who are part of the corporate team allowing the College to punch well above its weight in areas such as technology, finance, client services, and curriculum development.

Attracting the support of Government and Independent School agencies the College has been able fast track its Master Plan in response to the rapid growth in interest in and enrolments into the College. Stage 1, to be completed in 2021, prioritises provision of classroom learning spaces.

“The College's priority is the effective learning of all students, with a focus on the integration of technology across the key learning areas. We hold to the view that technology must encompass the emerging STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) priority but that it must also be integrated meaningfully into all areas of learning, including the Humanities and the Arts. The College believes that technology should be like water – it should just flow,” Corr says.

Stage 1 of the building program will provide accommodation for general learning for around 600 students in classrooms that are supported by high capacity WiFi, high speed internet, collaborative screencasting, and augmented reality. It will include four Science Laboratories, purpose designed to support students theoretical and practical understanding of Scientific knowledge and practical process. This will supplement an expanded Technology Block that accommodates the Applied Sciences of Engineering, Design and Production.

Stage 2, the Technology Hub completed in 2022, will include additional learning facilities that further develop the College's approach to technology rich learning. Across 3 levels the Technology Hub will accommodate a high tech auditorium with a capacity for 180 students to share experiences of learning, of performances, of lectures and lessons. Music practice and recital rooms will double as recording studios.

An entire floor will be given to a purpose designed Learning Resources Centre – a 21st Century Library incorporating "old-school" hard copy books; digital resources and learning pods; specialist learning support and enrichment spaces; and educators with the knowledge and the interest to help students access them. The top floor will house the Industry Standard Communication Technologies Suite incorporating Video Recording and Production Studio; Virtual Reality Studio; Podcasting Studio; Coding and App Development Space; and a Maker-Space for open-ended problem solving and prototype design and production.

“We believe that space is both functional and philosophical. It does a job and it tells a story.

"Our building design is derived from our belief that learning is dependent on the quality of relationships. We believe that relationships require spaces to be meaningfully shared. For this reason our design preserves the model of classrooms in which small groups of students can gather in relationship with each other and with a teacher, who knows them and whom they know, to learn with and from each other.

“In this shared space our intimate learning community can explore ideas and their own capacities and characters safely. But, being part of a larger whole, these classes need to be able to assemble into sometimes smaller and sometimes larger groups. The design Stage 1 provides for each classroom to be connected to a central shared "streetscape" into which small groups of students or whole classes can expand."

More than a thoroughfare this streetscape will include individual learning pods, small group learning pits, areas for assembly: all enriched with an infusive technology of screens for visual display.

Each of these classrooms will be directly connected to the full range of resources and facilities of the Technology Hub. at each of the 3 levels the Classroom wing will be connected by enclosed an "airbridge" with the Technology Hub, allowing any student from any class studying any subject to move directly to the Learning Resources Centre or to the Video Production Studio or the Maker-Space to incorporate that element into their learning.

See the masterplan

Image by Andrew Reitsma / Aerial Aperture