By C.D. DESALVO
On Monday at the Rockwell Administration Center, the Hays USD 489 Board of Education was presented with an update from the DLR Group, the architectural firm that the board unanimously hired to handle the new bond issue for the district after last year’s bond was soundly defeated by voters.
Amber Beverlin, project manager for DLR, updated the board on the schedule DLR presented to the board in January. The schedule features seven different workshops from February to May as a way to gauge where the USD 489 schools are at as far as observing facility conditions and educational environment and getting feedback from faculty, students, and community members.
“We had staff interviews at the very beginning. We stationed architects and planners at every one of your schools and met with as many staff members that wanted to come and bend our ear about any thoughts they had,” said Beverlin.
During the initial meetings with staff, Beverlin said that some teachers started to ask questions about what DLR was doing around the rest of the country to get a better idea of how other schools were upgrading learning environments. DLR added two extra workshops (a teacher workshop and a student workshop) at both the high school and middle school in Hays as a way to get better feedback and listen to what the students thought of the situation.
“We just wanted to get the flavor of what the kids were thinking, what their parents were saying to them and some of their own thoughts, which was fantastic,” said Beverlin.
DLR has conducted a total of 15 meetings so far at the halfway point of the five-month process. Through this process, the group has been able to hear opinions and thoughts from over 400 people in the community and has put together three committees (executive team, district planning team and community vision team) that collaborate in an effort to figure out what is best for the district.
“It is a three-tiered process,” Beverlin said. “The planning team is the voice for the educators, and the community vision team is obviously the voice for the community. So what we do is merge all that together and adjust and come back the next trip and talk through what we heard and how we will adjust and find out the direction we are going.”
At the heart of the process is the community vision team. DLR has had approximately 20 attendees at each meeting with people aged 20 to 60 years old represented. The vision team also consisted of USD 489 residents ranging from 1 year to 20 years spent in the district, parents and non-parents of current students, and a mix of “yes” and “no” voters from the last bond.
The three main topics DLR hits on consistently in the meetings are building assessments, what 21st-century learning looks like to the community and establishment of guiding principles.
“We walked as a team (engineers, architects, construction manager) through the buildings and looked at 19 categories and really investigated the state of the buildings,” Beverlin said. “Aside from bricks and mortar, we also assessed educational environments. This includes things like how much daylight there is, what kind of spaces are there to teach the way that they (teachers) want to be teaching, if there are project-based learning spaces or student-centered spaces — so all the things that a 21st-century school would have.”
DLR presented graphics indicating what areas the schools were good, average and poor in as far as facilities and learning environments.
Along with building assessments and explaining what 21st-century learning looks like in a modern school, DLR also used the community vision meetings as a way to gather guiding principles from teachers and staff.
“Right now, we have five guiding principles (safety and security, engaged learners, sense of community, plan for future needs and flexibility) and tomorrow (March 28), we will talk even more with the community group and confirm that these really are the top five guiding principles they want to go with,” Beverlin said. “These principles really help us decide what to do when we are at a fork in the road.”
The group will hold Workshop #4 today to confirm the five guiding principles with the community group and will return to Hays on April 11 and 25 and May 16 to conduct the final three workshops on the schedule.
In addition to the DLR update, the board also voted 6-0 to pass the continuation of the Head Start Program, which is in year three of a five-year grant.
The board also discussed briefly the recommended renewal of the Go Math curricular materials for grades K-5. The cost for the renewal will be $96,315.60 and will be voted on at the next board meeting.