21st Century Schools Symposium Stresses the Importance of Community


Furr High Principal Bertie Simmons and teacher Lurlean Dixon participate in the “Building 21st Century Schools” symposium on Wednesday. Click on the image for more photos from the symposium.

For HISD teachers, students and staff wondering how to go about building 21st century schools as part of the 2012 bond program, one architect has some advice.

“Start with talking about ideas,” said Christian Carlson, an architect with NBBJ, an architecture and design firm. “This is where the work happens.”

Carlson capped off a half-day symposium Wednesday on “Building 21st Century Schools” for more than 200 parents, students, teachers, and staff who will be involved in the $1.89 billion program to repair or build 40 schools, including 29 high schools.

The event, held at the Kingdom Builders Center on West Orem Drive, featured design and education experts who emphasized the importance of using the bond program to rethink instruction and move beyond traditional classroom models.

See more photos from the symposium on Building 21st Century Schools.

“Schools must be responsive to the needs of community if we want our students to function well within them,” said Andre Perry, associate director for Educational Initiatives at Loyola University.

Perry encouraged the audience to consider the role of schools within the neighborhood and to look at the bond program as an opportunity to creating facilities that serve as bridges to the larger community, with collaborative programs and welcoming buildings.

The idea of using schools to create a community connection was a theme throughout the four-hour event and resonated with longtime Furr High School Principal Bertie Simmons.

Furr is among the first group of 17 schools scheduled for construction. Though the planning and design phase of the new campus only just started, Simmons said she’s already started meeting twice a month with parents to share ideas.

“We’re excited about the possibilities,” Simmons said. “We want to all work together to bring more to the community.”

Teacher Lydia Zamora also knows the importance of community engagement on school campuses. She teaches Communications Applications at Sam Houston Math, Science & Technology Center, where she and most of her family members went to school, including her daughter who is currently enrolled.

“I remember growing up where the entire community was focused on what was going on at the school,” Zamora said.

She said she planned to share ideas from the symposium with colleagues and parents, who she would like to see become more involved with their children’s education.

“The community has changed, and we need to get back to that engagement if we want to push our kids in the right direction,” Zamora said.

Sue Robertson, HISD general manager for Facilities Planning, urged participants to start talking about their hopes for their schools and communities as they take the next steps in the planning and design process.

Learn more about 21st century schools

Each school in the bond program already has or will be setting up a Project Advisory Team to work with HISD officials and the architects and contractors hired for each project. Those teams of parents, students, and staff will be key to ensuring each school reflects the needs of each campus and community.  Robertson urged the audience to start creating and articulating their vision.

“This is about transformation,” Robertson said. “This is about changing children’s lives. You need to be partners in the process.”