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School Success: Superintendent Gives Update on Progress

In late 2016, Floyd County voters passed an $87 million referendum that will fund renovations of nine schools. What’s the progress on these projects?

By Josh Suiter | Courtesy Photo

In November, Floyd County voters passed a referendum that will fund renovations of nine of the county’s 16 schools. The projects range from slight renovations to two buildings being torn down and rebuilt. The $87 million worth of projects will come from property taxes, though residents will not experience an increase in what they currently pay. Superintendent Dr. Bruce Hibbard took the time to answer our questions about the overall progress.

EXTOL MAGAZINE: Can you describe some of the major projects from the referendum?

DR. BRUCE HIBBARD: The first project that has begun is the Highland Hills Middle School new car rider line. The new pick-up/drop-off area is in the rear of the building that is currently not being used. This will provide improved safety for our students and should enhance the experience for our parents with shorter wait times. The second project that will begin shortly is the new Green Valley Elementary School. It will be built behind the current school. The Prosser project is in the final design stage and will be bid soon. This autumn demolition will begin on the Slate Run Elementary site. Floyds Knobs, Greenville and the New Albany High School projects will begin next year.

EXTOL: When do you all anticipate the projects to be finished?

HIBBARD: With moving Slate Run Elementary to Graceland Baptist Church, we anticipate the projects to be finished in 2019. (The corporation is leasing space from the church beginning the 2017-2018 school year until the new Slate Run is completed)

EXTOL: How do you feel these projects will benefit the schools, the students, staff and community?

HIBBARD: In the 1980s, I had the privilege of being on a staff that opened a brand-new middle school. It replaced a school that was built in the 1930s. The students, staff and community had a great sense of pride about the new building. For the next few years after the opening, the staff continued to give tours of the school.

I anticipate much of the same for our projects once completed. The major projects will provide our students with state of the art schools that will enhance their learning and safety. I know that students and staff will take great pride in caring for their new buildings.

EXTOL: How will these projects impact our community and the schools long-term?

HIBBARD: In this era of competition for students, these projects will enable our community to compete for families moving to the area and those that currently live here. The projects will also allow the district to have greater flexibility in balancing our enrollment in our elementary schools. In the long term, our district will be able to utilize our capital project funds to improve the buildings that are not a part of the referendum.

EXTOL: Some of these schools are being completely renovated and in some cases, torn down and rebuilt. How will the transitional period work for these schools?

HIBBARD: Green Valley Elementary is being replaced with a building that is being built directly behind it. Fencing and a separate drive will be used to keep our students and staff safe during the construction phase. Slate Run Elementary students will be moved to Graceland Baptist Church while their new building is constructed. Prosser is a much more complex enterprise. New buildings will be constructed first, then programs will be relocated. The areas vacated by relocated programs will be renovated. It is like playing chess.

EXTOL: What was your reaction to the public’s support for the referendum?

HIBBARD: I was really pleased with the support considering the outcome of the election in general. It was an important win for our students and the region considering this was the first major construction referendum passed in Southern Indiana. Hopefully, other communities will be able to follow Floyd County’s lead.

EXTOL: What do you think led to this success?

HIBBARD: A group of about 30 people that worked countless hours. We ran a political campaign. It started with the help of the Winston and Terrell Group. They helped us with community outreach. After that, our leadership team met with individuals and groups and explained the merits of the projects. Then the Mayor of New Albany, Jeff Gahan, endorsed the referendum. His endorsement was a pivotal moment for our district’s success. The New Albany City Council soon followed with an endorsement. The builders’ association and the realtors’ association were early endorsers as well. Simultaneously, Families for Floyd County (a political action committee) began its work. Under the leadership of Michele Day, the PAC began working really hard to spread the message. For several months, we worked at the New Albany Farmers’ Market. Further, we had a major presence at Harvest Homecoming. Promoting materials were delivered to Floyd County neighborhoods by supporters.

EXTOL: How do these projects help with economic development in our community?

HIBBARD: With $87 million being spent on the projects, a lot of it will be spent on the wages of the workers. Moreover, the schools will help revitalize the neighborhoods in which they reside. New schools are a huge selling point for parents. I anticipate parents buying homes in the Slate Run and Green Valley neighborhoods. Of course, this will improve the infrastructure of our school district.

School board meetings, which are open to the public, are held the second Monday of every month at 6 p.m. and a work session is held the fourth Monday at 6 p.m. Both meetings are held at the Education Support Center, 2801 Grant Line Road in New Albany. These meetings typically include an update on the projects and provide for public comment during the meeting.

Weird School Down the Way

By Scotlyn McConnell

I want to let all of you in on the best kept educational secret in Southern Indiana: Community Montessori.

The non-traditional public charter school is currently nestled in a hideaway off St. Joseph Rd. in New Albany and the only real indication that the entrance is there is the beloved weeping willow and pond located at the entrance.

The building looks more like a ski resort than a school. But yet, the natural stone building holds around 600 students pre-K through 12 on any given school day. This, of course, does not include the Nurturey, the school’s daycare for 0 to 3-year-olds, which is located inside a house on the hill in front of the school. The school grounds also include a Creativity Cabin on the hill where ceramics and woodworking take place, a loopy parking lot, patio spaces off of each studio and a wooded area referred to as the “back four,” which is four acres of trees and trails.

 

The inner workings of the school are even more interesting than the outer. From how spaces are set up to the language used to describe them, there is no aspect of Montessori that can be compared to a traditional school. The school is made up of five different age levels. Each age level is mixed up and then put into a few classrooms. The easiest way to explain this clearly is with the high school program, referred to as the “Woods.”

There are four Woods studios (classrooms) called Sycamore, Sequoia, Cypress and Oak. Each studio has a mix of students 15 to 18 years old, freshman to senior, all collaborating in the same space. It’s the same with the Shapes (3- to 6-year-olds), Biomes (6- to 9-year-olds), Gemstones (9- to 12-year-olds) and the Islands (12- to 14-year-olds).

The Montessori schedule is perhaps the most confusing thing about the school. In the high school program, the average student will have a math class every other morning and a humanities class, which is a mix of English and history. In the afternoons on Tuesdays and Thursdays, students have two seminars that they choose at the beginning of the year. On Wednesdays, they have an expression, which is a class that is supposed to be something you’re more interested in. On Mondays, they have a free work cycle in the afternoon, and Fridays are free work cycle days.

One more thing that’s a little bit different in our high school program is that it’s required that we have an internship every semester from the time we turn 16. Every Friday once you’re 16, instead of going to school, we go to our internship sites. For example, every Friday this past semester, I interned with Angie Fenton, Extol’s editor.

I’d like to take a jump back and take a moment to talk about our elementary levels. The Shapes, Biomes and Gemstones are where Montessori philosophy truly shines. The school’s namesake, Maria Montessori, dedicated herself to these age levels as they are the most formative years. While living her life in Italy she constantly saw the wasted potential of children in the slums, so she made the first Montessori school and named it Casa dei Bambini Montessori or Montessori House of Children.

Basic Montessori philosophy is to meet children where they are. Whether that’s emotionally or academically, the school doesn’t try to make learners go faster or farther because they’re a certain age or that’s what they’re “supposed” to be learning. The other factor is to help the children be independent and learn how to do things for themselves.

As with the older students, in these age levels there are no lesson plans. Instead, every student has an individualized work plan. This is one of the ways to meet the children where they are. While this may create a harder time for the teachers, it pays off in the end when the student is learning at their pace and is only learning what they are ready for. This also gives the opportunity for students to be able to do work that is above their age level if they are ready for it.

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One of the fun things this age group gets to experience is what’s called “practical life.” During practical life, children learn how to wash dishes or chop food or tie knots or do other things they aren’t able to do at home. I remember very vividly a day when I was in Quatrefoil studio and we were doing practical life exercises. We were all given a piece of string and were learning how to tie bows. Then our teacher told us to try doing it on our shoes instead of with the string. That’s how I learned how to tie my shoes.

Unfortunately, Maria Montessori died before she could fully develop the teens program, but we follow the philosophy as best we can. Students are met where they are and have individualized work plans. With a lack of steady classes, most students take on a fair amount of independent credits. Students make these plans with one of the two advisors (teachers) in each class. Students are treated as equal to all the advisors. We call them by their first names and are encouraged to question advisors and to disagree when warranted.

Students are trusted to stay on top of their work, much like how college is. There’s no one standing over your shoulder telling you what to do. This is scary for a lot of parents, and a lot of kids aren’t able to work like that.

Before deciding on Montessori, it’s important to know that it is not for everyone. Not everyone can deal with having the freedom to do what they want all day. It takes a lot to make the decision to do math when you could watch Netflix instead.

I feel lucky that I can work in this environment. It took me a little time to get in the groove, but once I got there, it all fell into place. I was alway the “weird kid” at my traditional school, but at Montessori we’re all the weird kids. This school is a good fit for me because I used to always rely on other people to make sure I was doing well, but now I can rely on myself. I’ve become so much more responsible through this school. I’ve been forced to grow up, and I love it.

All in all, and I may have a bit of a bias here, Montessori is a great school. If you or your child don’t work well in traditional school environments, it may be a good alternative. Creativity is cultivated here, ideas are supported, people are made.

Extra Credit is a new feature focusing on education. If you have a story idea or are a student of any age interested in writing an opinion piece for Extol, please send an email to angie@extolmag.com.