By Katherine Knott, Fort Knox News Contributing WriterJuly 28, 2017
Fort Knox, Kentucky (July 27, 2017) -- Laura Gibson is ready for the students. Gibson, the principal of Kingsolver Elementary School, has spent years preparing for the school to open. Now, aside from some finishing touches, all that's left is for the students to walk through the doors and start learning.
"I can't wait to open the doors," she said.
Students and parents will have their first official glimpse inside the new $38.9-million school at an open house from 4 to 6 p.m. Aug. 3. The school can hold up 635 students, but Gibson said she expects to start with about 530 students.
Kingsolver is one of two schools to open this year in Kentucky that are part the Department of Defense Education Activity's 21st Century School initiative, which has reimaged what a school should be.
"Twenty-first century schools put the focus on the student and their needs," said Steve Skaggs, the project engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers in Louisville.
DODEA has taken this model worldwide, building new schools across the globe
Kingsolver replaces MacDonald Elementary School as the post's second elementary school. Van Voorhis Elementary will remain open for the next school year.
Gibson has waited five years for the new building.
"We're just really excited," she said. "It's a unique opportunity."
She pointed out, Kingsolver Elementary is unlike most schools in Kentucky. It's investment is project-based learning and transformation of what school buildings can be.
"It's a contemporary student-centered design," Gibson said. "It's an adaptable, flexible environment that allows us to put students at the center of environment."
At Kingsolver, classrooms are called learning studios, and grouped into pods called neighborhoods. The studios are joined by a learning hub, which is an open gathering space.
"(The new terms are) part of us because we've been talking about it for years," Gibson said.
The studios have retractable glass walls, so the teachers can turn the neighborhoods into an even larger open space. The different options give teachers the chance to use different teaching methods.
More and more, teachers are moving away from the lecturing at the front of the room with students in desks, and then asking the students to regurgitate information. Instead, students are being asked to demonstrate their knowledge through projects.
While the school will look different, the instruction will be similar to what students have received in the past. But now the teachers will have better infrastructure to support those methods.
Logistically, the students will have one main teacher, similar to a homeroom, but the students will belong to all the teachers, Gibson said.
The teachers don't have desks in the learning studios. Rather, their desks are all in one room where they can meet and work together.
"It's a collaborative process," she said.
They'll be expected to collaborate on assignments and data analysis, among other things. Gibson said they'll have an hour a week set aside for collaboration and planning, but she expects they'll work together beyond that hour.
That collaboration won't be much different for the teachers because they started to work in professional learning communities last year to prepare, Gibson said.
Faculty at MacDonald and Van Voorhis were given the preference of which school they wanted to work.
"They were aware of the shifts and the change that was needed," Gibson said. "We wanted people who wanted to be there."
To prepare, teachers and administrators received training from the Buck Institute, which focuses on project-based learning. Gibson said they've already requested the second level of training.
If the project-based approach goes out of style, Gibson thinks the building won't be deemed irrelevant since it has a variety of spaces and options for students.
"I'm very confident because it's student-centered and not focused on what teachers need," she said.
DODEA started moving toward 21st century schools in 2010 as part of a strategy to improve or modernize its facilities around the globe. DODEA serves about 73,000 students in 168 schools located in 11 foreign countries, seven states, Guam and Puerto Rico.
A 2008 report showed that many of DODEA's schools were failing--including all of the ones at Fort Knox.
Most of the schools at Fort Knox were built in the 1950s and were reaching their shelf life, a former garrison commander told The Gold Standard in 2011.
So DODEA worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to design a school revolved around teaching and learning in the 21st century.
Dr. Christie Huddleston, the acting district superintendent for Kentucky and southeast schools, said that through this design, students will be prepared for a "Glocal" workforce--one that's global and local.
Huddleston also said the building and the instruction will be geared toward Tony Wagner's seven survival skills--critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration across networks and leading by influence; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurship; effective oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information; and curiosity and imagination.
The building is also designed for the changing student who's better at multitasking and other things given the technology they are growing up with.
"The days of rote memory recall--that's over," she said.
One of the major concerns she's heard from teachers and parents is that the glass walls could be distracting for students.
"But what our teachers have experiences is that the students are engaged in learning," she said.
DODEA started opening these schools last year, and Kingsolver will be in the next batch. She said while test scores can take two to three years to reflect the changes in learning, they are working on a tracking system to measure student achievement.
A key feature of the 21st century schools is using the building as a teaching tool, Skaggs said.
Skaggs said the building was designed with the environment in mind and will be LEED Silver certified.
"The Army and Air Force have been pushing LEED and DODEA picked up the banner," Skaggs said. "It makes the building more efficient."
He said all the energy efficient features cut the energy bill in half.
To limit light pollution, each room has light occupancy sensors. When Gibson walked into the different classrooms on the tour, she would wave her arms up and down to trigger the lights.
In the office of the school, a television will have an energy dashboard that "shows you visually how building is performing," he said.
Skaggs said he has seen schools get into this and make it a competition.
"They're really buying into this by seeing it every day," he said.
Skaggs said during construction they looked for durable materials because "the schools need to last 40 to 50 years."
Additionally, the emphasis on science, math, engineering and technology is embedded into the the building as seen by the decision to leave certain parts of the infrastructure exposed.
Along one hallway, there's a clear panel that reveals the building's piping as well as a clear water pipe. Students also can see the wires running along the top of a wall.
In the office, there's an eight-cornered star that serves as a map for the building. Each section of the building is color coordinated, which Gibson said will make it easier for students to navigate the school.
The colors are a presence in the building. It's hard to miss which section an individual will be in the school.
The floor plan is akin to an H with neighborhoods running down two parallel hallways. The hallways are joined by a large commons area that Gibson will serve as "the heart of the building."
"I see learning taking place here," she said on the tour.
Teachers can have class in the commons or stations. Students can also work in the area. The commons area will function similar to gyms in traditional schools. The school can have all-school assemblies and family nights in that space.
Gibson was the principal at Kingsolver when it closed in 2014 and has worked to plan the new building.
"Seeing it go from the design process to brick and mortar has been an honor and a privilege," she said.
Since this is a military school, the building has several antiterrorism features from the shatter-proof glass and curbs that are 2 inches higher than normal.
Kingsolver was always intended to be a 21st century school, even if the project took a bit longer than expected. Talks about a new Kingsolver date back to 2011, per The Gold Standard archives.
Since then, troop movements have forced closing of four schools--leaving Fort Knox with Van Voorhis and MacDonald Elementary schools, Scott Middle School and the high school for the school year 2016-2017. About 1,5000 students are enrolled in Fort Knox Community Schools.
With Kingsolver set to open this school year, MacDonald Elementary closed in May. Students who live on the east side of Highway 31W or in the Maple Ridge subdivision will attend the new Kingsolver Elementary School.
From parents, Gibson said she's heard nothing but really excited questions. She said they'll teach Families about the school at the open house and on curriculum night where parents learn about what their kids will learn.
Gibson had the opportunity to visit a 21st century school to see it in action. Hampton Primary School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, which was one of the first 21st century schools to open.
"We were told to expect the unexpected," she said.
Now, with the opening a few weeks away, she's keeping the focus on the students while remaining flexible.
That training plus a year of working in professional learning communities has prepared Gibson and her staff for the new school. But Gibson knows there will still be kinks to work out from safety to best practices on how to use the walls and how to group students
"How to use the space is something we have to revisit constantly," Gibson said. "This year we'll have to teach everybody. I'm sure we'll encounter some things."