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Ignacio opens new middle school
9/13/2013 By: Carole McWilliams
Construction activity was still evident Tuesday on the north side of Ignacio's new middle school, even though it was the seventh day of classes.
Landscape workers were outside in the rain setting out shrubs in the muddy parking lot islands.
"We are about three weeks away from being completely done," Principal Chris deKay said. He pointed out that the rain was an opportunity to see where there are drainage issues to be corrected outside the school.
He happily pointed out all the features inside the school, including security and energy efficiency, and the district's transition to mastery education with students advancing at their own pace in each subject.
Everyone enters through the main doors on the south side. There are outer and inner doors. The inner doors are locked at 8:10 a.m., deKay said.
The administrative office is right there, and anyone entering after 8:10 must go through the office. All the school's other doors are exit only, locked on the outside.
In the administrative area with the front office is a cubicle for in-school suspensions, with a window for what deKay called passive supervision. His office looks out on the approach to the front entry, so he can see anyone coming in or leaving.
Secretary Susie Ruybal sits behind a counter that on Tuesday was still bare metal. Other places in the school also had bare metal, such as several student work pods in the halls.
They will stay bare metal, deKay said. They will be polished and finished with a clear coating.
Many things in the building are intentionally left visible, such as electrical conduits on the hallway ceiling, and the computer brains for the whole school, visible through glass in the commons/ cafetorium near the front entry.
The floors have sort of a granite look, but they are polished concrete. The wide halls have student lockers on one side, bright red instead of institutional gray.
The hall in the east half of the school has areas of glass on the south side, part of the school’s energy efficiency, deKay said. The school has enough natural lighting that it could operate during a power outage. The ceiling lights are LEDs.
"The use of passive solar and lighting is phenomenal," he said.
There are several teacher office spaces along the east and west hallways. The building design emphasizes collaboration, for both students and teachers, deKay said. The teacher offices are designed for that, to plan lessons and discuss how students are doing, which kids need to move up or down in which subjects.
Standards-based education means you meet kids' needs, deKay said. "They are on grade level in the class, whichever it is. They could be 6th grade level in one, 7th in one, and 8th in another, but they are all in 7th grade. We are one year away from full implementation. Math and language arts are done. This year it's science, social studies, everything else."
Pointing to the teacher room, deKay said, "Teachers don’t have classrooms. … This is where their desk is. In the classroom they get a desk (table), some storage, and a podium."
Each student has a district-issued laptop computer that they are responsible to bring every day, charged and ready to go. Teachers can monitor and control the screens of those computers in the classroom.
"Teachers are having to learn as much or more than the kids right now," deKay said.
The art classroom is right off the commons area. There is a place to display student work into the commons, and an outside patio.
The first couple classrooms going east from the commons area are social studies. The desks are immediately noticeable. They look sort of like triangular puzzle pieces. They can be arranged individually or in pods.
On Sept. 18, taller standing desks will be delivered "for the kids that are fidgety," deKay said.
In the hall is what deKay called a break-out pod where students can work. There is a big white-board on the wall. There are similar pods in the hall by the math and language arts classrooms at the east end of the school.
Back in the commons, deKay showed how the tops of the cafeteria tables can be flipped up to turn the tables into benches. The school has a state-of-the art kitchen, and all meals are cooked there instead of being brought from another school, or as 7th and 8th graders have done for years, share space in the high school cafeteria.
Big south-facing tran
sparent garage doors can be opened on nice days. "You’d be surprised how much the kids use the commons area," deKay said.
The library opens off the north side of the commons. As of Tuesday it didn’t have any books. It has places for kids to work individually or in groups. It has comfortable seating, a teaching area and a break-out area by the northwest facing windows.
As he did several times, deKay noted the stunning view, although on Tuesday it was obscured by low clouds and remaining construction equipment outside.
"We couldn’t have done better for the views here," he said. "It’s truly beautiful."
The stage is part of the commons. On Tuesday, it was closed off with a movable wall. It can become an extra classroom, deKay said.
The band room is behind the stage. The high school is using it now too, because they don’t have a band room. That space is becoming the new district administration building.
Going west from the commons are the gym, a colorful wrestling and weight room, the woodshop and an ag classroom, and two science classrooms/ labs. The science rooms are in use all day long, deKay said.
In the gym he said, "Last week we didn’t have PE in here because we were working on the bleachers. This week we do." He noted the large amount of natural light compared to the old junior high gym. Students were running back and forth in a game deKay called sharks and fishes.
A hallway storage area was still in progress Tuesday. "Some of us are still living out of boxes, including me," deKay said.
"We asked staff to remember three things in the first week," he said – "patience, flexibility, and kindness, because we were moving into a building that wasn’t quite done. They had to exercise all of those. We’ve been waiting for everything from trash cans to keys to shelving."
So how did the students react on their first day in the new school?
"The kids were saucer-eyed when they came in," to see the shiny state of the art building compared to what they’d been used to, he said. "Both staff and students have been so pleased at how modern it is, the use of space."
DeKay commended the RTA architects from Colorado Springs, who designed the building in collaboration with a district design committee, and the general contractor, FCI. "Both have been really good to work with," he said.
As a middle school, the building houses grades 6-8.
Previously the 6th graders went to the intermediate school across the road from the new mid school. The former intermediate school is now in a state of what looks like devastation as it is re-made into a K-5 elementary school.
As with the new middle school, that’s part of the $50 million bond issue approved by voters with a one-vote margin in 2011. Renovation and expansion of the high school are still in the planning stage, with hopes of going out to bid early next year.
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