Comprehensive, Not Vocational

Quincy High School
Quincy, Massachusetts

Quincy High School was failing. The separation of its vocational/technical and academic programs created two separate and unequal social groups. The public viewed it as the “trade” school compared to North Quincy High School, which was the more elite college-preparatory school. It also had a combative relationship with its residential neighbors on one side and a struggling downtown on the other. Additionally, the adjacent wetlands and a coastal flood plain complicated any architectural or urban design interventions.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Quincy High School leadership developed new goals emphasizing interdisciplinary learning and combining theoretical and hands-on concepts. However, a full redirection of focus toward a unified academic/vocational program was continually stymied by the layout and condition of the buildings and campus. After a school-wide facilities assessment, Quincy High was designated for renovation or replacement. The City embarked on extended facility, site, and educational planning evaluation, culminating in a set of guidelines that would allow the new school design to facilitate academic integration and realize Quincy’s vision for a modern educational model.

In the 21st Century it is imperative for students to maintain a balance of social, academic, and vocational skills that will allow them to be competitive, regardless of their career path. The dramatically redesigned Quincy High School achieves this goal through a combination of conceptually powerful “academies,” with a layout and design that not only supports the new educational mission but is a resource for the community as well.


Bridging the Gap

The school has been located at the heart of the city’s downtown, on a site with limited buildable area since 1924. The school was originally designed with a building for academic courses and a separate structure for vocational courses, the two separated by a heavily trafficked roadway linked only by an overhead pedestrian bridge. This separation resulted in both a physical and social fracture, worsening the divide between academic and technical learning, and undermining any natural interaction among academic and technical students and staff. The new school transforms the road that once divided the campus into a courtyard designed to connect students, faculty, and staff.

New Quincy High School

Complete Collaboration

The Quincy High School administration, superintendent, and educational programmer/architect incorporated a decade of public discussions and decisions from the City’s past initiatives as well as priorities from the faculty’s 21st Century education program, and the City’s stipulation that the school remain at its downtown location. The concept of a “series of academies,” blurring the lines between academic and vocational/technical study emerged as a result of the collaboration between school officials and SMMA’s team.

A Space for a New Style of Learning

SMMA’s design of a new adjacent school in downtown Quincy used the project as a catalyst for civic renewal and an opportunity to reinvent the educational model. The new school was built with the vision of a series of “Academies of Excellence:” a Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) Academy; a Humanities Academy; a Fine Arts Academy; and a Freshman Academy. Adjacencies were programmed to foster interaction among both students and faculty, as well as to forge cross-disciplinary relationships. By arranging public spaces like the gymnasium, cafeteria, and auditorium near the courtyard and main entry, student interaction was rejuvenated. The separation of the academic and the vocational was erased, realizing true project-based learning in all disciplines. Quincy High School is now part of a civic renaissance in a post-industrial, working-class Northeastern city.

As a result of this project, you walk around and everyone is so cheerful. To me, that makes a major difference.

— Frank Santoro, Former Principal, Quincy High School


The learning programs at the new Quincy High School are unlike those found in most traditional public high schools and reflect a surprising range of goals for the school’s various learner groups. The co-location of academic and technical programs in the design of the new resulted in:

•    Stopping the migration of students away from Quincy High School

•    A renewed focus on academic excellence, with a record 200
     students participating in the state science fair; several students
     achieving perfect SAT scores; a fourth-place showing in the
     Boston University Robotics Competition; the History Bowl team
     reaching the national competition in Washington, DC

•    Teams taking on interdisciplinary projects bridging subjects as
     diverse as earth science, marine science, biology, carpentry,
     and plumbing

•    Demonstrably increased staff volunteerism and community
     use of school facilities after hours

•    A new high school contributing markedly to the revitalization
     of downtown Quincy

•    The emergence of Quincy High School as the premier provider
     of secondary education in the City of Quincy

Quincy High School Library