Spotlight on District 109

An update on the Master Facilities Plan.

The district has been working on a master facilities plan for almost a year and they are getting close to releasing the final proposal to the community.  However, they did give us some of the broad options they are considering at the last board meeting.  The presentation from consultant Fanning Howey is attached.  The consultant did a top down review of all six schools in the district and reviewed everything from pressing needs to what ideal 21st century schools should look like. They presented four options (paraphrased somewhat):

1) Life/Safety and Maintenance items only, cost $18.8M

2) Upgrade the existing structures to support all educational objectives, cost $168.7M

3) Life/Safety/Maintenance plus A/C, early childhood, and STEM classrooms, cost $48.8M

4) Build all new schools, cost $199.5M

I’m going to focus on option 3 for the moment because it seems like the most reasonable plan.  Life/safety items are about $7.4M and maintenance items are $11.4M.  We currently spend around $4M per year on maintenance, so this could probably be absorbed over the next 3 or 4 years.  Air conditioning all schools would be about $10M.  I consider those the must-do items.  That leaves $20M for an early childhood center at South Park and STEM classrooms.  These are the two items we really need the Board to fully understand before we go off and do them, if that is the will of the community.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  The thinking is that since technology jobs will continue to climb as a percentage of the workforce, we should be teaching these concepts at the earliest ages possible.  As an engineer by trade, I couldn’t agree more.  We can do so much more to introduce engineering concepts at younger ages.  There are two parts to the STEM concept, classrooms and curriculum.  Instead of desks, chairs, and chalkboards, the STEM classroom utilizes computers, iPads, smartboards, and drafting software.  Why not teach children with the real world tools they will be using later in life?

The challenge, of course, is implementing the concept effectively.  Sure we can spend $20M and have nice, sparkling classrooms but then what?  Effective implementation of the curriculum will make or break this project.  Given the current administration’s penchant for screwing up curriculum implementations, I think it may be prudent to wait for the next leadership group before we move forward.  We don’t want another debacle like the special education curriculum change, away from resource rooms, that was handled poorly and caused much grief in the parent community.

Maybe that should be a criteria in the Superintendent search.  Maybe we should find someone who has worked with the STEM program.  This is a MAJOR program implementation and the Board needs to think it through completely before giving the green light.  They need to lay out the plan for classrooms and curriculum and put proven leadership in place to manage it.  We can’t afford to spend $20M just to have another spate of board meetings with complaining parents.

There have been quite a few documentaries on the space program recently since the death of Neil Armstrong.  It made me realize two things, that I should have been born 20 years earlier so I could have been a part of it, and how a group of engineers and technicians, mostly in their 20s, accomplished one of the greatest things anyone could have ever imagined.  That, to me, was the greatest generation, but with the right training, our kids can do things we could never dream of.  We need to do this one right the first time.

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katie Bittner September 08, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Great article John and lots of things to think about! I hope that the community takes interest in being part of the process and that insightful decisions are made . But I am not counting on that with the current board .
Mara Meyer September 08, 2012 at 04:47 PM
John, expertly said! The fact that this District has consistently given lip service to curriculum changes and implementation rather than substantive changes to curriculum, this community should think twice about some of the proposals this Board has looked at. I fully understand the changes at the middle school regarding STEM, however at the elementary level is ridiculous and actually irresponsible on the part of the Board.
John Russillo September 08, 2012 at 08:37 PM
Great point, Mara. In what grades does this make sense? Also, I've been reading about a school in Philadelphia that was essentially built by Microsoft. Have we explored partnering with technology companies? There needs to be ALOT more study done before the community can get behind this proposal.


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