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New Schools/School Renovations - December 2016
By Mike Dawson

Mike Dawson, member of the Facilities Master Committee Our fore-great-grandparents left us a great legacy in the schools of the Cedar Rapids Community School District. These are buildings that have stood the test of time, some serving students for more than a century! Our schools have been regularly maintained, renovated, and updated as students' educational needs have evolved. The District is now studying and planning to meet future educational needs.

A diverse group of community volunteers, teachers, and other district staff members was assembled this fall to serve as a Facilities Master Planning Committee. We began meeting on September 20, 2016, and public meetings are scheduled this month to gather community input that will help us continue our work into next year. The plan is to make a facilities recommendation to the Board of Education next fall.

The large group is divided into five sub-committees studying various focus areas. I serve on Sub-Committee #4 - New Schools/School Renovations. For our study and discussions, we are using material from previous District reports and case studies from other school districts in Iowa and from other countries. Our first discussion question was, "How does a building lend itself to student achievement?" I will give you a hint to the answer - not in the way our fore-great-grandparents schools did. Schools today need to be flexible and adaptable to accommodate the varied learning styles of the diverse students in our District. As an example, one student may learn a subject better in a collaborative teaching setting than in a study hall style classroom. One subject may require or benefit from a different learning environment than another. We must design our school buildings to support the learning styles we know about and to be flexible enough to support learning styles we have not yet even dreamed of.

Our fore-great-grandparents were good stewards of the funds they invested in our school district. Many buildings are sound, reliable, and are positioned in the right location to serve their neighborhood. In planning for the future, however, we must ask ourselves the difficult questions: Are our schools the right size for the grade level? Can we add to the existing buildings to provide for the future needs of students or would we be better supporters of future generations by investing in new school buildings? Should we consider merging two school communities into a single new school in the same neighborhoods? How do we address the expanding needs of the District as the City expands its footprint to the west and the north along the Highway 100 Corridor? How do we continue to make our buildings safe and secure learning environments? How do we accommodate ever-changing technology needs to ensure our students can master the skills needed for their future careers?

Our goal is to provide our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren with the best learning environment possible to help them succeed in their studies. I invite you to help us meet this goal by participating in the Community forums December 13, 14, and 15 and in the online survey that will be posted on the District website next week. Change can be both frightening and rewarding at the same time. We must plan now for the benefit of the future. I want our great- great-grandchildren to look at their schools and say, "Thank you fore-great-grandparents, for investing in school buildings that have served our community for the last century!"

Mike Dawson is a tax preparer and registered financial representative at Selk Dawson Tax & Financial,