CUSD holds second in series of meetings on school facilities

Walking the same hallways that our parents and grandparents once walked when they went to school has been a time-honored tradition in most small communities. But does hanging on to that nostalgic piece of Americana hurt students?

Educators today seem to think so.

In the second of a series of community meetings planned on Colusa Unified School District’s aging facilities last week, Superintendent Dwayne Newman said the way that students learn has dramatically changed since Colusa’s three school campuses were built, and that continuing to create or repair small rigid classrooms may no longer meet the needs of today’s students or the students of the future.

“We have a wide range of construction ages, from 1926 (district office) to modulars we just pulled on two or three years ago,” Newman said. “The youngest permanent structure that I am aware that we have was built in the 1980s, so we are still looking at buildings that are at least 30 years old.”

Newman said this new conversation on the state of CUSD facilities started when a school board member said the district, before considering another bond measure, should look at alternatives to repairing outdated structures that are long past their useful life.

The district plans to hold a monthly meeting throughout the school year, and would like more parents and community members to get in on the discussion. By May, the school board hopes to have an idea on whether the district’s next big investment in education should be in the form of new school construction.

“If a community comes together, you can do some amazing things,” Newman said. “Although we might not have the funding in hand, I don’t think that we should let that stop us from dreaming about what is best for our students.”

Unlike the schools built in the mid 20th century, schools today are typically designed to help students learn and thrive in a hyper-connected, 21st century environment, Newman said. Modern schools tend to have flexible seating – with space for peer-to-peer learning – that can be easily reconfigured for different purposes; they have movable walls so teachers can create different instructional areas based on needs; they are adaptable as technology changes; they are fully accessible to all students, regardless of mental or physical impairment; and they typically have multiple floors so students can easily move about to save time.

And in the era of mass shootings, architects and school districts are also reinventing school buildings to include safe rooms, one-way vision, fencing, better PA systems, better security, and cameras, but at the same time creating nurturing and highly technical educational experiences for students that set modern educational facilities apart for prisons.

“Facilities have a lot to do with school safety, and facilities have a lot to do with the quality of education,” Newman said.

And it’s not just education and vulnerabilities that have changed, Newman said, but student demographics have changed since Colusa’s schools were built. Public schools today must, by law, accommodate all students, including students who are now taller, heavier, and more mature, or may have visual, auditory, cognitive, or other physical impairments.   

“That changes the way we build, and that changes the cost of how we build,” Newman said. “We have to make our facilities child friendly.”

Newman said by May of 2019, the district hopes to have a long-term facilities plan in place that meets the district’s vision of providing students and families with an excellent, well-balanced education where students gain skills necessary for success in an ever-changing world.

“We want to continue to do what the school board has made a priority and not become one of those schools that narrows programs because of funding constraints,” Newman said.

The next community meeting will be held at 5:30 PM on Nov. 5, inside the CUSD auditorium, 745 10th St., Colusa.