For years, Sugar Creek Elementary School has tried to put in extra effort to serve underrepresented communities and those of lower socioeconomic status.
Now – once restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic allow for it – the school will have far more capacity to do so.
That starts with the creation of a community room aimed at providing resources to families who might not have access to basic needs otherwise, including food, computers and laundry machines. Sugar Creek had used its multipurpose Step Room for things like early childhood development programs, but with a larger and more accessible area in what once was Badger Ridge Middle School, it will be able to provide space for them without having to work around the demands of the school day.
“One of the things about having a larger facility is that we can really be committed to serving the needs of our community,” Sugar Creek principal Todd Brunner said.
That’s one of many ways the addition of the new Verona Area High School on the city’s west side can have an impact on the community. In addition to bringing new opportunities and experiences for students in grades 9-12, it’ll change the education of some of the district’s K-8 students and add amenities for the community at large.
With the moves, charter schools will get their own spaces, or at least room to breathe, and Badger Ridge will be able to take advantage of facilities they previously could only use as community members.
Five of the district’s K-8 sites – Badger Ridge, Core Knowledge Charter School, Verona Area International School, New Century School and Sugar Creek Elementary School – are taking up new residences in other district buildings, which allows all nine schools in the district to accommodate growth, provide extra amenities to students and families and give sites that previously shared spaces more control over what schedules look like.
Each will get more space, and for three of them, that means having room to breathe rather than feeling like the sites are constantly working around one another. While for another, that means no longer feeling like it’s bursting at the seams and having dedicated spaces while still being able to add more than 100 students.
The extra space and facilities come with some challenges. Those include extra time needed for Badger Ridge and Core Knowledge students to get to classes and unbalanced facilities between the middle schools.
Prior to COVID-19 taking the attention of district staff and the school board elsewhere, the district was working on aligning the experiences and curriculums of Badger Ridge and Savanna Oaks Middle School. Badger Ridge will have access to everything at the old high school – a performing arts center, a pool, a football field, a track and a small school forest – in its backyard, while Savanna Oaks students will not.
And no longer are Badger Ridge’s classrooms configured in a pod style, in which each group of teachers is gathered in a central area. Instead, there will have to be a cluster of science classrooms near the main office, and a smattering of other subjects gathered in other areas, based on the layout of the old high school building.
With a bigger building, it’ll take more time to get around, meaning changed schedule times to assist students in getting to class on time.
“It’s unfortunately going to be a little bit more of a junior high feel,” Badger Ridge Middle School principal Alan Buss said. “We were able to configure it so generally seventh grade will be in the same area, and eighth grade will be in the same area.”
The new spaces will have many benefits.
Core Knowledge will gain some autonomy over its schedule – no longer having to make sure Badger Ridge does not need spaces at the same time – and New Century and VAIS students will have their own library and gymnasiums for the first time.
And the district is buying itself time to accommodate growth – which will help all of the district’s schools.
“Even with the additional children coming to Sugar Creek, we will have some empty rooms,” Brunner said. “We have room to grow.”
The move has been a frustrating one, however, as teachers had to sit idly by during the spring and wait until they could rush through packing, as the state had closed all schools buildings to limit the spread of COVID-19. That left only small windows at a time to go in and pack up their classrooms that had sat empty for weeks.
“Honestly, we were hoping to give them a lot more time to pack than we were able to, and they adjusted very well,” Core Knowledge Charter School director Rick Kisting said.
The new high school will be able to fit 2,000 students at its maximum capacity, and as it moves to a larger space, the other schools will be able to step up, as well.
Sugar Creek will go from having 560 students to nearly 700, releasing some of the strain on the other schools. Badger Ridge will be able to expand past its 518 students in the new space, while Savanna Oaks can stay at a similar enrollment without having to squeeze.
And for the first time, the charter schools will have their own areas to space out.
Previously, each charter school had to do some sharing with other neighborhood schools that were inching closer and closer to capacity as the district’s population grew. Not all of VAIS’s classrooms were grouped together, and Core Knowledge had to base its schedule around when Badger Ridge wasn’t using shared spaces such as the lunch room.
While all of the charter schools will still have to share some spaces, they’ll get more autonomy.
Core Knowledge’s elementary school students will get their own lunch room, housed in what was the former wrestling room, with windows and a serving line part of the renovations in the space. And New Century and VAIS students will be able to have their own library and gym to use, rather than sharing with Sugar Creek and Stoner Prairie.
“In terms of day-to-day, things like a separate lunch room for our elementary students from the middle school is going to be huge in terms of us having some flexibility with the schedule that we didn’t have before,” Kisting said. “Before, we were trying to get four different lunch periods within the elementary and middle schools.”
Princl said that in the prior sites, if VAIS or New Century needed to use additional facilities outside of their classrooms, another site administrator had to be a part of the planning. Now, with both of her sites being the only ones in the building, that won’t be the case.
“When it comes time to make decisions for my own site, we’ll be able to make those decisions so much quicker because it’ll just be me, talking to me,” she said.
With the new spaces at Sugar Creek and Badger Ridge come added options for students and the community.
At Badger Ridge, students will get opportunities they normally wouldn’t receive until they got into high school.
Now, they’ll have access to expansive wood and metal labs, a greenhouse and larger family and consumer education and art rooms with pottery wheels.
“The opportunities are definitely there,” Buss said. “What we’re going to have to do is balance out what opportunities our space provides, versus making sure that we keep an equitable experience between Badger and Savanna Oaks, and Core Knowledge.”
In the new Sugar Creek, what was once the career and technology wing of the school has been transformed into classrooms for kindergarteners, with new art and music rooms next door just around the hall and a makerspace tucked into the library.
There’s also a large group instruction room and a community area, that will be able to host early childhood educational programming and provide community support.
Previously, families who participated in the early childhood program “Kidz Place,” for ages 5 and under, were only able to come to Sugar Creek on Mondays, and they used the Step Room, where everything had to be packed away each time, Brunner said. Now, there will be a space just dedicated to them next to the community room, which will have computers, a washer and dryer, food and clothing for families in need and a meeting space.
“We have the largest program in our school district of weekend food packages going home – that will be run out of there,” Brunner said.
Going with the flow
Eventually, Badger Ridge administrators will need to adjust the schedules to provide more time for students to get to and from classes.
That’s mainly because seventh and eighth grade students and their teachers won’t be centralized in “houses” the way they were in the old building.
Buss, who spent 22 years of his career as an associate principal for the high school, knows the new BRMS building at 300 Richard St. like the back of his hand. But he plans to wait until he and other staff see how students move about the building.
They spent a significant amount of time figuring out how to lay the building out and working with the amenities already in the classrooms, Buss said.
He said the F and G wings of the building worked out well to have sixth graders and Core Knowledge’s elementary students. Seventh and eighth grade students will use the rectangle-shaped area around the office.
That will put the seventh and eighth grade students closer to the encore classes, and the sixth graders further away. So instead of being on a strict bell schedule, Buss added, administrators will instead need to consider what the appropriate transition times are for students based on where they’re located in the building.
“We may allow the teachers more flexibility in moving from class to class for those, versus having to build in some transition time to get from their core academic to the encores, just because of the physical distance,” he said.
Bringing students together
For Princl, the move is convenient and efficient.
Now, when she needs to meet with someone from one of her two charter schools, she won’t have to travel six miles to get there – instead, she’ll be able to simply walk down the hall.
While having the smaller communities of students at New Century and VAIS is useful, Princl said it will also be beneficial to have students from each site also know one another’s students as they move on to middle school together. For New Century students and staff, having more space will make the experience of the close-knit community feel different from how it did in the old building, as classrooms and hallways sat snugly with one another.
It’ll require a little bit extra work to re-create the closeness the New Century building layout created, Princl added.
“If you think about how the structure of a building can create community, that’s what this (old) site has had over the years,” she said. “It has been very natural for teachers and students to get to know each other – for fifth grade teachers to know K’s and 1’s in our site.”
The new building will also bring VAIS students together, as they were spread out through classrooms in different wings of the Stoner Prairie building, as well as parts of Savanna Oaks prior to 2016, Princl said. Having them be all together will help them build a sense of community, she said.
“They’ve bounced around to a number of different sites,” she said. “They still were more spread out, and they didn’t see each other as much. So that is going to be an opposite experience for them, where it is going to be able to draw them together.”