Some time ago, the district hired architectural consultant Fanning Howey to put together a 10 year master facilities plan. They examined the schools, surveyed parents, teachers, and students, and worked with the Facilities Development Committee (FDC) to put together the document that we saw last night. I think they did a very nice job. They presented four options, which are shown in the attached file. Most of the talk centered on the third option, which includes maintenance, life-safety, air conditioning, an early childhood center (EEC) and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) classrooms.
The maintenance and life-safety items will total about $18M and can be rolled into our current maintenance budget of about $3M per year, meaning we would spread the tasks over a 6 year period. Air conditioning is an idea whose time has come and I think everyone realizes that now. Air quality issues affect many more children today than 30 years ago, including cases of asthma and airborne allergies. Also, kids are now used to air conditioning in their homes (which many of us were not), and to walk into a 90 degree classroom throws them out of their comfort zone and inhibits learning. This is an investment in our schools and in our children and it must be made.
The EEC is basically a centralized location for pre-school and kindergarten, which could be expanded to full day. Right now the thought is that it would be a two story addition to South Park, on the west side of the building. There are pluses and minuses to this concept. A full day kindergarten is certainly a plus. The EEC also allows the elementary schools to free up space for other programs. However, we would basically lose neighborhood pre-schools and kindergartens. All children in the district would go to South Park. Traffic congestion is already bad at South Park and this could make it worse.
STEM is the other program the district would like to introduce. I firmly believe that we have to enhance the science and technology component of our childrens’ education at the middle school and high school levels. The percentage of S&T jobs in the workforce continues to increase every year and we have to change the educational paradigm to prepare our kids. The problem with the master plan as it stands right now is that it is just a "bricks and mortar" plan. The curriculum piece has not yet been addressed. We need to think through the total STEM solution before committing to the program. For example, I asked a question about the effectiveness of STEM in the K-5 grades, which in my mind are best served teaching the basic skills of reading, writing, and math. The answer was that we wouldn't really implement STEM in K-5, just have larger classrooms. However, according to the plan, one of the biggest reasons we are implementing an EEC is to free up room for STEM in the elementary schools. So which is it? What will we be doing with those larger classrooms? If we are going to spend a large amount of money on an addition to South Park, there needs to be a clear cost-benefit (bang for the buck). I'm not seeing it yet.
This plan is all about priorities. The middle school science labs are in need of upgrading. A Shepard teacher spoke about how four of the six labs are essentially unusable. The enhancement of the instruction of science and technology in the middle schools is a big priority. We need to address the STEM curriculum piece (which most likely will include hardware and software upgrades) and put together a total solution. Air conditioning is another priority. We must address the health and well-being of our students and teachers. The community as a whole should look at what is being proposed in this plan and give feedback to the Board. There are major decisions to be made here and the community should be the ones making them.
In order to have a world class school system we must change with the times. Our aging facilities will not support a modern educational process and it's time to take action.