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Future middle schools: More glass, light, academic ‘neighborhoods’ envisioned

April 8, 2019 GMT

In a few years, the halls of learning in Spokane middle schools will be more conducive to… learning.

For one thing, they’ll be shorter, with academic-centered “neighborhoods” off to one side, like friendly cul-de-sacs.

There will also be more light, more glass – the better for teachers to keep an eye on those neighborhoods – and hopefully a more welcome atmosphere for the next generation of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at Spokane Public Schools.

Now the district has a blueprint for the future, the product of thousands of hours of work by teachers, administrators and students.

Soon, serious design work will get under way for the replacements for Glover and Shaw middle schools.

By 2024, the district expects to have six new middle school buildings, thanks to passage last fall of a $95 million capital bond.

The hard work continued last week when Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson and other district officials met with representatives from Integrus Architecture of Spokane.

The general contractor, Lydig Construction of Spokane Valley, was chosen last winter.

“The goal is to finish the design by the fall of 2019,” said Anderson, who expects to have shovels in the ground a year later.

The Glover project will happen concurrently.

The Shaw project is the most comprehensive undertaking approved in the bond. The new middle school will share some space with On Track Academy.

Anderson envisions a plan “where we would lay out the building and connect them in a broad campus.”

The district also hopes for a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere on Cook Street, which runs north-south between Shaw to the east and the library and Northeast Community Center on the west.

Anderson said that the city is “supportive of the idea.”

Hoping to continue a transparent process, the district and the Spokane Public Library will hold an open house on Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the community center.

The open house will include early master planning design concepts, and representatives from SPS Capital Projects and Integrus will be available to answer questions.

Many of those concepts were formed in February during workshops and forums that focused on the new buildings planned at Shaw, Glover and Sacajawea middle schools.

Unlike the current buildings, which date from the 1950s, their successors will “not be cookie cutters,” Anderson said.

All will have distinctive designs, but with a common goal distilled during the winter workshops.

For example, the team at Glover expressed its goals with verbs: “to welcome, play, move, create, perform, connect and explore.”

At Sacajawea, the accent was on “neighborhoods” that will “support collaboration, encourage transparency, create spatial variety and connectivity” – all while “minimizing corridors.”

Physically, that will mean more “work areas and small group areas that teachers can see, with lots of light,” Anderson said.

“The school will have a center but also several sub-centers,” Anderson said.

The team representing Shaw placed an emphasis on open space and plenty of glass, plus a “dynamic space” for science, math, English and social studies.”

At the same time, all new middle schools will adhere to core academic principles. The goals:

• Prioritize grouping sixth-grade students together for core classes, with a limited number of teachers serving each group.

• Develop student-centered schedules that prioritize proximity between classrooms, minimize the number of transitions, and support teacher collaboration.

• Support accelerated course options, classroom differentiation, and additional minutes for literacy and math interventions.

• Emphasize classroom experiences that are active, engaging, rigorous, and promote project-based learning opportunities.

Meanwhile the district is laying the groundwork for future adjustment of school boundaries as sixth-graders move into six new and replacement middle schools.

By this fall, the district hopes to select a committee of 30 of 40 members, some of whom will be drawn from regionally and by districtwide lottery.

The online application process is expected to completed by the fall, with final boundaries scheduled for completion by the fall of 2020.