Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What’s So Great About Joplin High? An Interview With Dr. Kerry Sachetta

Entrance to JHS 11 & 12 grade campus

Recently I sat down with Dr. Kerry Sachetta, principal of Joplin High School, to discuss the exciting technology introduced at the 11th-12th grade campus as well as the challenges presented by operating a high school with separate campuses spread across town.  Out of necessity, the school district moved 9th and 10th graders to the original Joplin High School (built in 1917), 11th and 12th grade students to a renovated space at Northpark Mall, and Franklin Tech classes to a remodeled warehouse located at 4th and Kentucky.  Needless to say, teachers, students, and administrators find themselves devoting a large percentage of the school day to travelling among the three campuses in order to attend classes or other school activities.

Multi-function hallways and "think tanks"
According to Sachetta, the 11th & 12th grade campus provided architects the unique opportunity to construct a school setting introducing innovative technology and design, demonstrating in a temporary environment what can be done to improve educational offerings on a larger scale.  One design technique architects employed to overcome overcrowding issues was the construction of wide hallways as a means of managing traffic flow and providing additional work spaces for students.  The hallways not only provide ample walk space for students between classes, but they also house “study lounges” that allow students the opportunity to work in small groups or individually on projects and assignments.  Another exciting design feature has been the inclusion of “think tanks” – small conference rooms where students can study or work with teachers undisturbed by others.  Additionally, several groups of classrooms were constructed with “flexible walls” which allow teachers to literally open walls between classrooms in order to adjust room size based on the number of students in a class.  According to Sachetta, “What kids like about the 11th & 12th grade campus is that it’s new and different, but it doesn’t have everything a school has, because it can’t.  For instance, we don’t have a gym, or an auditorium.  On the academic side, we have some new and innovative spaces that we didn’t have at the old JHS, and that’s what we really want to have to help us with overcrowding and to help us with different ways to address the curriculum for students.”

Flexible walls
Unfortunately, the physical plant of the 9th and 10th grade campus does not lend itself to the same innovations enjoyed at the 11th and 12th grade campus.  The 95 year-old building that houses the students was constructed utilizing 1917 standards during an era where pursuing an education beyond the 8th grade was optional.  While improvements have been made to update the building to accommodate many of the high school’s needs, it would prove cost prohibitive to make the changes necessary to the physical plant that would allow students to enjoy the same learning environment as those at the Northpark Mall campus. Says Sachetta, “If you stop and think, the 9th & 10th grade campus functions a lot like JHS that was destroyed.  And then you think (how) the 11th & 12th grade functions like a school that is not overcrowded, that has different kinds of learning spaces; that has more places to collaborate and work together – adults with students, adults with adults, students with students – and to learn in different ways, it’s like two different worlds in education…. JHS that was destroyed was a nice building, but it was horribly overcrowded.”   Additionally, due to the distance between campuses, many students are unable to enroll in some of the classes that were available to them when the high school was housed on a single campus.  Lack of availability of space, staff, and time are some of the factors that make it impossible for students at the 9th & 10th grade campus to collaborate with each other.

In the wake of the disaster that destroyed the city’s high school campus, administrators worked hard to provide adequate temporary learning facilities for students.  However, it must be understood that these facilities, while innovative and sufficient, are temporary fixes, not permanent solutions.  While overcrowding at the former high school was an issue requiring attention before the tornado, it is now imperative that the school be rebuilt addressing not only the current and future needs of the community but also allowing the space needed to teach students in the most efficient manner possible.  A new campus built using the design techniques introduced at the 11th and 12th grade campus is not going to have, as Dr. Sachetta says, “…gold trim, crown molding, and other things that they (students) don’t care about but that adults think is nice or makes a room look fancy.”  Instead, “What we’re going to ‘wow’ them at is by how the space is used, the flexibility of the furnishings, the amount of sunlight that we get in the building, and the more natural everything will look.  This will give students an environment that is flexible and welcoming.” 

Natural, welcoming atmosphere
A new high school, built to the size that meets state standards for the 2,200 students who will attend, will provide our community the educational opportunities our children deserve, preparing them for whatever path they choose to follow beyond graduation.

Vote “Yes” on April 3.

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