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New Middle School Part of May 3 Vote

Techology & Security Upgrades Also Planned

A May 3 bond proposal would bring a new middle school and upgrades in technology and security to Sparta Area Schools, creating major improvements for students and community.

The $58.6 million proposal would be just the fourth bond in three decades, and would provide middle school students new opportunities they won’t find in their current, 1950s-era building, said Sparta Superintendent Gordie Nickels.

A community forum on the bond issue will be held on April 19 at 7 p.m. in the Sparta Middle School media center, 480 S. State St. More on the proposal

After working with multiple companies to estimate construction costs, he said the cost to renovate the current building would be much more than 50 percent of what it would cost to build a new facility. If passed, the proposal would cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 about $67 in additional taxes annually.

The current middle school, originally a high school, was intended to prepare children to participate in a manufacturing-based economy, Nickels said. “Most schools that were designed around that time were designed around that factory model: present them content, move them out,” he said.

“What we know about middle school-age kids today is that learning has to be very different from that.”  The new facility will allow staff to use contemporary teaching and learning methods with students.

♥New Design, New Ways to Learn

A new school, built on former ball fields relocated to the high school, would include designs better suited for collaborative and project-based learning, Nickels explained. “It’s about building flexible space. It’s about building space that allows for collaboration, allowing for us to go very easily from a large-group setting to small groups to individualized.”

New spaces and learning models would also be enhanced by an investment in classroom technology. Sparta is in its second year of a pilot project, in which 14 classrooms across the district have been using iPads and Google ChromeBooks to find a long-term match.

The ChromeBooks are the most cost-effective tools the district has tried, Nickels said, and could be implemented through the bond into third- through twelfth-grade classrooms. These types of upgrades are essential to a modern education, Nickels added.

“Kids these days were born into this (technology), so they’re digital natives,” he said. “It’s part of who they are. We use the word ‘global’ [education] a lot, because it is. That’s the world they’re living in, and that’s the world they’re going to have to compete in.”

The current middle school facility would be renovated to bring the White Early Childhood Learning Center — whose classes are spread throughout the district — under one roof. This would allow teachers and classes to collaborate as the district seeks to grow that program, Nickels said.

The existing learning center building could then be sold, bringing a new business into the community, he added. The current middle school gymnasium would continue to be used by students and the community.

Security Upgrades a Major Priority

Another top priority for the district is security upgrades in each building, Nickels said.

“We’re doing as much as we can, but the bottom line is, we need to redesign those entryways so that once the day starts, once kids enter those buildings, the only way guests and visitors can get into the buildings and get into those areas where kids are is through the office,” he said.

Nickels explained there is a link between healthy school districts and the strength of local property values, and home buyers tend to show higher interest in communities with good schools.

“When your public school system in your community is strong and vibrant, generally the community is strong and vibrant as well,” he said.

The bond proposal has been the result of community and staff surveys and public forums conducted in the past two years, and would be Sparta’s first bond since 2004.

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