The Escambia County School District was given a presentation regarding the New Downtown School at the Board's workshop meeting held last Thursday afternoon. The project architect, Quina Grundhoefer, Inc., gave the update and provided some models and conceptual renderings to the board. Several interesting points were made during the presentation and subsequent discussion that merit attention.
1. The new school will be open and ready for students by August 2011.
2. Superintendent Thomas has given good indication that current Hallmark Elementary School Principal, Dr. Sheree Cagle-Mauldin, will most assuredly be the principal of the new facility.
(Dr. Cagle-Mauldin, it was announced, will be principal of both Hallmark Elementary and Yniestra Elementary for the 2009-2010 school year, as current Yniestra Principal Nancy Reece will be retiring at the end of the current school year and no replacement will be named. Given the new downtown school's attendence zone will be comprised mainly of the current Hallmark and Yniestra districts--it seems inevitable that Dr. Cagle Mauldin will be the first principal of the New Downtown School when it comes online in the Summer of 2011. Dr. Cagle-Mauldin is, without question, absolutely the right person for the job; she is, in a word, fantastic.)
3. The design of the new school will emphasize the use of natural lighting, and the goal is to shoot for an enhanced level of energy efficiency with this new property. The architects are aiming for Silver Level LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. In addition to maximizing energy efficiency, this facility will also have the latest, state of the art technology to optimize learning delivery. Classrooms will have individually wired sound systems, so teachers can teach in a normal tone and every student will be able to hear them clearly. Smart Boards, document cameras, high speed internet, a modern library facility, a computer room--this school will have it all.
4. Superintendent Malcolm Thomas said he has plans to make this school a unique and progressive learning environment, and his goal is to have the new downtown school become an international foreign language academy. Students will be able to choose from several foreign languages to study, in addition to their core curriculum.
5. It was also made very clear that this school will be for the students who are currently zoned in the area---and if parents from outside the attendance zone want their children to attend this new downdown school, these parents will have to move their families into this downtown area. This school will be for these inner-city students--not for just anybody anywhere who wants their child to go to the "new school." I agree with this vision.
Invariably, there will be some critics who will blast us for building a new facility in this economic downturn, while we are at the same time closing several existing schools. There may be some merit to this criticism. But, to these critics I would say simply that we try to do the best we can with the limited (and diminishing) resources we have. We also do not have the luxury of crystal balls; we as board members cannot see into the future--and we make decisions on the best and most up-to date information made available to us at the time of the vote. I'm proud that I voted for this property purchase and to move ahead with construction of this school.
Some things to consider:
The lion's share of the costs of this project will come from the 1/2 cent sales tax fund, with some money coming from (2mil, now 1.75mil) capital outlay funds. The 1/2 cent sales tax money can only be used for capital projects and our district has a "watchdog" committee that oversees these projects and expenditures. We have an excellent track record on our 1/2 sales tax projects--even our most ardent critics must concede this point.
The 1.75mil money, up until very recently, could only be used for facilities projects. Due to the current economic crisis, Tallahassee has allowed local districts some additional flexibility on use of capital outlay funds. There is talk that districts may get even more flexibility and allowable uses for 1.75mil money. This flexibility is welcome, but in my opinion we need to cautious about using too much capital outlay money for non-facilities budget needs. We have a large district with lots of facilities to maintain--and maintaining facilities is expensive but expending facilities money on a new downtown school was a wise choice--it appropriately puts the students first.