As part of its research for an anticipated 2016 capital project, a group from Broadalbin-Perth Central School District traveled to a school district in Syracuse that has worked in recent years to restructure its buildings and its learning model to better prepare students for college and careers.
District leaders at Broadalbin-Perth are in the process of developing a capital project tentatively scheduled to go before voters in a referendum on Tuesday, May 17, 2016, during the annual school budget vote. The trip to East Syracuse-Minoa Central School District (ESM) served as an opportunity for administrators, school board members and other district representatives to gather ideas from a district that is a few steps ahead in its strategic planning and building renovations.
Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson said one of the biggest takeaways of the trip was seeing how important planning is in configuring buildings to accommodate effective and innovative learning models.
“At East Syracuse-Minoa, all their capital project needs are clearly being driven by their plans for student instruction,” Tomlinson said. “Planning is so important. Having a vision for the future of B-P will allow us to innovate and create an environment and a culture of thinking outside of the box.”
Accompanying Tomlinson during the visit were Middle School Principal Wayne Bell, High School Principal Mark Brooks, Director of Operations and Safety Mike Carney, Instructional Technology Coordinator Steve Gennett, Board of Education Vice President Ed Szumowski, and Randy Collins, president of CSArch, the architectural firm that is managing the district’s capital project.
While at ESM, the group visited with middle school students about their STEAM-centered learning model; toured the high school and heard from high school students about their experiences in the district’s career pathways program; got an overview from ESM’s architects on the design of the learning environment; and ate lunch prepared by the high school’s culinary students.
In much the same way Broadalbin-Perth has been seeking to grow its STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) offerings and help students define pathways to their careers, ESM has focused its strategic plan and building projects on better preparing its approximately 3,500 students for the jobs that will be available when they graduate.
Carney said he was especially impressed by the spaces teachers can rearrange based on what students are working on, including space for small groups to work in the hallways.
“They have truly been planning for what the future of education is going to look like,” Carney said. “To create spaces that are flexible in ways that help meet educational needs is fantastic.”
Brooks, who is in his first year at Broadalbin-Perth and previously worked in the Guilderland Central School District, said he believes B-P already has very good facilities. However, Brooks said he was impressed by ESM’s non-traditional furniture in the learning spaces, where moveable pieces replaced the typical desks and chairs to allow for better communication among students.
“They have structured their spaces the way schools should look and operate in the 21st century,” Brooks said, adding that, through the capital project, he hopes B-P is able to create similarly interactive, hands-on, learning environments that are driven by student interests.
In planning for a reconfiguration of B-P’s schools – housing all elementary students at the Perth site and all secondary students at the Broadalbin site – Tomlinson said that the district has to keep in mind that 21st-century programs that are focused on project-based learning take up more space than traditional classrooms.
“We want our program plans to drive this capital project, which will aim to get beyond just fixing things and give our students the best possible learning opportunities,” Tomlinson said.
CSArch will present its five-year Building Conditions Survey to the B-P Board of Education in early November. The district will host its first public forum on the capital project planning on Monday, Dec. 14 (snow date Dec. 17).