Education visioning session continues in Marietta

Education consultant Frank Locker talks to a table of Marietta residents as they make their way through the second day of a visioning session, intended to guide the community toward reimagining the city schools education system. More than 50 people participated in the exercise at the Marietta Shrine Club Monday and Tuesday. (Photo by Michael Kelly)

MARIETTA  — By day two at 1 p.m., they were discussing what were formerly known as classrooms, options in furnishings and equipment, and the dizzying array of directions education in Marietta might take.

The Marietta City Schools visioning session, after more than 10 hours over two days, was winding up. Educational planning consultant Frank Locker was still energetically stalking the big room at the Marietta Shrine Club Tuesday, taking questions from and posing questions to the 54 participants, divided into nine groups of six each.

The participants, who included students, parents, educators, and representatives from businesses and agencies, had seen slide presentations, watched videos and talked among themselves about what a 21st century education should look like in Marietta. Locker had shown them models that seemed radical from places ranging from Australia to Finland and across the U.S., all of them attempting to rethink the way children are educated, and all of which had shown startlingly good results.

Locker told the groups to divide a sheet of flipchart paper down the center and on the right, indicate what they thought to be indispensable in terms of spaces a school should have; on the other side, he said, write down things that no one else would think of.

The goal, after a day and half of contemplating how education would work, was to create an organizational diagram for school buildings – what’s included, what’s not, what might be nice to have.

The participants were still reflecting on a video they’d watched after lunch about High Tech High, a school in San Jose, Calif., established by a man with a law degree who chose to pursue a career as a teacher of woodworking. The school was built in a renovated World War II-era warehouse near the city docks and bore no resemblance to a traditional school building – it was full of high-ceilinged airy spaces, glass walls, movable furniture, and art, student art, everywhere.

Explaining the difference, High Tech Hire founder Larry Rosenstock said, “We’re accustomed to schools where architecture gets in the way.”

Spaces viewed as indispensable by most of the groups included cafeteria and food preparation areas, learning spaces – as opposed to classrooms – gymnasiums, storage areas, teacher collaboration centers, a teacher work center, custodial and maintenance spaces, spaces for applied learning such as labs and makerspaces, one or more media rooms, and – although it isn’t funded by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission – an auditorium.

Options offered by the groups included a greenhouse and atrium, a welcome center for parents and members of the public, a fitness center, an E-sports arena and an onsite daycare for teachers with small children.

Locker challenged each suggestion with further questions – should there be one food preparation center and several areas for eating? Could the eating areas be converted to multipurpose areas outside of lunchtime? What sort of auditorium – a traditional type with sloped seating, or one with more flexibility?

“What if we had one or two cafeterias inside, but if it’s warmer, a nice day, you could have an outdoor picnic or dining area,” Kalis Bigley, a Washington Elementary School fifth grader asked.

Wendy Brewer, the marketing director for the district’s bond proposal to construct new schools, suggested a high ropes course. “It helps build trust,” she said.

Superintendent Will Hampton said Locker will compile the priorities expressed by the session into an extensive report and submit it to the district. After that, he said, there will be more discussion, but focused on detail rather than broad concepts.

“We will process it, see how it fits into a plan,” he said. “There will be more discussion, more detail.”