2017—Johnston Elementary School

Abilene ISD—Johnston Elementary School
Architect: Parkhill, Smith & Cooper, Inc.

A replacement school was needed at a 60-year old campus in a mature neighborhood. Attendance zones would change with the project and attention focused on an educational delivery to serve a campus where 71% of its students are classified as economically disadvantaged. “Keep it Unique” was the community’s charge. The campus embraced a differentiated learning model, rich in technology but without a centralized library. After community dialogue, it became the first 21C school in the District.


The simple plan concept includes a well-defined and welcoming entrance and a secured vestibule transparent to the administration and commons areas. The commons is inviting and flexible with overhead doors that open to the fitness room for additional seating during assemblies. These common spaces are centered in the building and are connected through a single main corridor to the six neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has outdoor access, moveable furniture and a unique color scheme for wayfinding.


Value—Star of DistinctionA compact plan reduced the exterior wall to floor ratio and a bay study by structural engineers saved steel tonnage and construction time. An 8700 sf classroom pod was salvaged to make a bus canopy and play pavilion for use by students and the community. Without a central library or computer lab, HUB spaces in each neighborhood serve that need but also function as space for student directed learning and team projects. Savings in space efficiency, materials and reuse totaled more than $700,000.


Solar analysis, an east-west building orientation, and high efficiency mechanical and lighting systems helped reduce overall energy usage by 42%. Windows with shading devices provide an abundance of natural light and views to each neighborhood and strengthen the connection to outdoor classrooms. A cistern is used as a teaching tool to collect rainwater for science lessons and the very active gardening club. An existing concrete classroom structure was salvaged for an outdoor play pavilion.


Building a strong internal community and acting on input from the surrounding neighborhood strengthened connections. With new attendance boundaries, an emphasis became building grade level communities through Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits and Leader-in-Me rallies at the Pavilion. This area is also a shaded stop along a new community walking path, where the old school’s gazebo, with decades of children’s hand-prints, has been preserved. The existing gymnasium is also well utilized after-hours.


Planning—Star of DistinctionStudents, faculty and the community came together to envision a school for their contemporary needs. To determine where to begin, Elementary students were asked to draw their idea of a perfect school. Informed by this perspective, faculty alongside technology and campus representatives devised a common vocabulary and program for differentiated learning. This further led to a charrette whose iterations allowed educators and board members to visualize and endorse a distributed library concept.

School Transformation

Transformation—Star of DistinctionEach grade level is its own learning neighborhood, with classrooms clustered around a flexible HUB space where learning is more peer-to-peer and self-directed. 72 chrome books and distributed library resources in the HUB offer immediate and continuous access. “Leader-in-Me” and “Buddy” reading programs flourish in the HUBs where older and younger students collaborate. After just one year, e-book usage increased ten-fold, the number of million word readers doubled and book checkout increased 75%.

Stars of Distinction Star of Distinction Category Winner