As Norman Public School’s newest bond issue hits the one-year mark, many have been working behind the scenes to get major projects in the district rolling.
Some of the most notable of those projects, and also carrying the largest price tag, include integrating a Freshman Academy and College and Career Center at each of the high schools.
Out of the $126 million bond, roughly $21 million will be dedicated to each high school for the additions on both campuses.
Construction is expected to begin district-wide this summer for many of the projects included in the bond, said Dr. Nick Migliorino, Assistant Superintendent and Chief Technology Officer at NPS.
“Right now we’re doing the things that people don’t see, all of the behind-the-scenes planning,” he said.
Design plans were recently presented to the board for Norman North, which were approved. They will be going back again in a few weeks to hopefully take construction documents and then put those projects out for bid to get started for construction this summer.
Design plans will soon be presented to the board for Norman High and follow a similar process, Migliorino said.
“We’ve got everything from staging and transitioning,” he said, adding that they are working with engineers and architects familiar with schools so the students will be moved to different classrooms, with as little disruption as possible, during the construction.
Director of Secondary Education Holly Nevels said both high school principals have committees specifically geared for these projects that began meeting last summer to stay on top of things as they progress.
NPS has been working on the eighth grade to ninth grade transition for years, just as many high schools have. One of the challenges they were facing was, in an older building, creating a place where freshmen could come together and have a gradual release into high school, Nevels said.
“That transition from eighth grade to a very large high school is sometimes really tough. Albeit that a lot of our freshmen are taking upper level courses where they were in with upperclassmen, we felt that they still needed a home in the school where they’re not just thrown into the mix,” Migliorino said.
Academically the district has students coming out of the middle schools who are advanced, but they have to honor the fact that they’re still 14-year-old students, Nevels said.
“As you get older you get more freedom, as you should,” she said. “But we feel like that should be a gradual release for them socially and emotionally so they can adjust to that while they’re being successful in their academics.”
In the Freshman Academies there will be a freshman counselor, freshman principal, core freshman teachers and really everything in one area that serves as a kind of home base.
“Once again, knowing that some of them are going to have to go out and take other courses if they’re going to take chemistry or upper-level math,” Migliorino said.
With the University of Oklahoma in NPS’ backyard and strong partnerships with the Moore Norman Technology Center, another thing the district began to look at was providing students more opportunities.
“One of the things we value in Norman is, we have a philosophy that we want our students to have lots of opportunities academically,” Nevels said. “We’ve also pushed that philosophy of rigor and the opportunity to get into rigorous coursework for everyone.”
However, as students getting into those higher level classes, or matriculating through to their senior year, Nevels said they began to ask the question: Shouldn’t that look a little bit different than it did K-through-8, or even 9th and 10th grade?
Nevels said with the knowledge that the world is about collaboration and project-based learning, their schools weren’t necessarily set up to do those things back then. Facilities like the college and career centers, where students can have a collaborative area to go work, will lend more to that kind of learning environment.
“We’re preparing them not only academically, but also for the social aspects of what learning looks like as you move beyond high school,” Nevels said. “(Preparing them) to be successful in that next transition.”
While many may think the next transition is also a college or university, Nevels said they know their students make a lot of different choices, whether it’s military or going straight into the workplace. They’re trying to help their students be successful in any of those endeavors.
Access for all:
In both the freshman and college and career centers, Nevels said it was really important to teachers that the spaces be open and accessible to all. Lower classmen will have access to the college and career centers and upper classmen will have access to the freshman academies.
Another aspect they looked at when planning the new renovations and construction was blending the new with the old to avoid having one area look spectacular, while another just looked kind of sad, Nevels said.
The high school is also creating a kind of community Wi-Fi opportunity so not only students at school can connect, but also parents and community members who come to the school, Migliorino said.
The infrastructure will be beefed up to accommodate that in order to eliminate students being frustrated that they can’t connect. The curricular team is also looking at what devices to provide for secondary students, as well as how to use those, he said.
“With all these areas that we have we want students to bring their devices, their technology,” he said.
Challenges to be met:
One of the challenges with the five-year bond is they have to have everything completed in three years from the time they’ve received the money, Migliorino said.
With already one year in now, they only have a little over two years to have everything done.
“It’s going to be fun and there’s going to be a lot happening in a very short amount of time. It’s gonna fly by,” he said.
Migliorino added that one of the things Superintendent Dr. Joe Siano has said to many groups is that they want kids who are at the schools now to experience this bond before they leave.
The way it’s structured, the district has three years to get that done, which lends itself to that goal, he said.
Migliorino also said that along with adding the new freshman and college and career centers into the school, they also have the opportunity to dress up the facade of their buildings.
For example, Norman High is just a square, brick building on Main Street. With the bond, they’re going be able to pull the building out toward Main Street, create more parking, create some elevation to the building and add some nice glass work, he said.
“When someone drives down Main Street that may be new to Norman, or has been a lifelong resident, they’re going to see Norman High and go, ‘Wow, that is our high school,’” Migliorino said. “Or they drive down Stubbeman and they go, ‘Wow, that’s where I want to go to school.’”
It also creates a good impression for teachers or different people coming to determine where they’re going to live. Migliorino said they’re going to look at the schools and that first impression means a lot.
“We know that what goes on behind the doors of the school is the most important thing, but really that first impression, the way it looks, really does mean a lot to the community, as well,” he said.
Some exciting things to look out for with the new construction will be the front facade of Norman High’s building, which will be a Tiger etched into the glass. A high school television studio set up similar to the Today show, where students will be on a second-level surrounded by glass so students below can watch live broadcasts at Norman North.
Both of the learning centers will also feature a genius bar with technology access and a coffee bar similar to what OU has in the basement of its library, Nevels said.
There will be a lot of wide, open spaces with soft seating; the ability for moveable structures and furniture where people can drag chairs together; and really just provide a space that calls to people, Migliorino said.
“Once again, this is a place that we want people to come,” Migliorino said. “We’re wanting to do our part for the city to say, ‘Look at us. Look at Norman. We’re the place you want to be.’”