L.A. Unified School District is co-locating a new preschool with affordable “workforce housing” for teachers and the public, the Los Angeles Times reported last week. The Glassell Park complex, currently under construction, will include a new apartment complex and a preschool with a 10,000-square-foot “outdoor learning classroom” that will be open as a playground to residents during non-school hours, according to the article.
This idea – a school district co-locating a preschool with affordable housing – caught our attention here at Early Ed Watch for a number of reasons. First, the project recognizes that a young child’s school life and home life are intertwined, and that building safe neighborhoods and communities alongside good schools is crucial to improving the lives of children.
Second, the Glassell Park complex has an eye towards improving teaching: the building will be located in a dense urban area with high teacher turnover. L.A. Unified hopes that offering affordable housing near schools will help attract teachers, particularly during years like the present when teachers are worried about losing benefits, such as health insurance.
Finally, the funding strategy for Glassell Park is an example of braiding funding streams in order to make a project possible that couldn’t have happened otherwise. The building is being constructed on district-owned land that was formerly a parking lot for a next-door elementary school. A nonprofit development firm, Adobe Communities of Los Angeles, is funding the apartment complex, and the early education center will be built using funds from voter-approved bond measures, according to the Los Angeles Times. In addition to providing land, L.A. Unified helped finance a $7 million underground parking garage, but did not provide funds for the rest of the building.
The idea to co-locate schools with housing, or with other community organizations (such as health clinics or fitness centers) is central to the community schools movement, which we have been following at Early Ed Watch. Crossway Community in Kensington, MD, is one other example of a preschool and apartment building co-locating on purpose. Crossway Community provides housing, parenting classes, and a Montessori preschool for children that live in its affordable housing units.
It will be interesting to see what the Glassell Park complex is like once it is completed. (No word yet on a completion date.) If successful, the project could serve as a model for the many other districts that struggle with the same issues as L.A. Unified – perennial challenges of expanding preschool access to more children, attracting and retaining good teachers, and finding the space and funding to provide the many services that today’s students and neighborhoods need.