A collaborative, multi-year imagining effort coupled with unparalleled community support has been the real ground broken for the new Wickliffe Campus, a 205,000-square-foot building designed to embrace new ways to educate and inspire the district’s 1,400 students.
The two-story new build for Wickliffe School District will house pre-K through 12th grade in one modern complex that is both on time and on budget for a June 2023 completion in preparation for the start of the 2023-2024 school year, says superintendent Joe Spiccia.
In November 2019, voters generously supported a $60 million bond issue to build the campus, which will replace all of the district’s existing school buildings. The construction, which is on the site of the current high school, officially began in May 2021.
“While there is some movement in small districts to go to a single building campus, it’s relatively unique in the state of Ohio,” Spiccia says.
The district’s original plan in 2017 was to renovate its aging school buildings. “Our current middle school and elementary school are both almost 115 years old and in poor shape,” he adds. “We discovered that it was more expensive actually to do the renovation than to look at a new construction project.”
Reimagination of Education
The priority is to ensure that students are future ready and that the district provides well-designed curriculum and programs to meet the needs of a diverse group of students, Spiccia says.
“We wanted to create a space that was going to help students and the community become successful in whatever it is they want to become,” he adds. “Our thinking behind that was first to empower staff to use the skills and the knowledge and the experiences they have to create a great educational program, and second to create a building which the community can be really proud of.”
Through an inspired and exhaustive process Spiccia calls the “reimagination of education,” led by the district’s director of strategic innovation, Julie Ramos, the district examined every one of its practices and everything that happens inside the school building.
“For the past year and a half, every month we met individually with all licensed staff members in the district, every single teacher, every single school counselor,” Spiccia says. “We also meet every single week with students, and we meet once a month with community members. And essentially the question is: If you could build an educational program, what would it look like? What is the dream out there? Why do we do what we do and is that the best way to do it?”
The result will be a welcoming, park-like campus that incorporates spaces that will greatly expand opportunities for the curriculum and enhanced learning, provide students better collaborative spaces and promote flexible classrooms.
For example, the district’s preschool, kindergarten, first- and second-grade students will be in traditional, self-contained classrooms, but beginning in the third grade, students will not have one single teacher but rather move from place to place based on their needs.
“We will do a lot of progress monitoring and formative assessment to determine where students belong,” says Spiccia, referencing the concept that a student who excels in reading in the fourth grade could move easily to join a ninth grade reading group and then shift to another level for science or English. Before, this fluidity to match advanced students with a personalized educational plan wasn’t possible when grades and curriculum were separated in different school buildings.
“There will be opportunities for our older kids to work with our younger kids as academic tutors, as mentors, as supportive role models,” Spiccia says. “I have a great deal of confidence and faith in young people. What we know is going to happen is every single one of our students will benefit from having a broad range of ages.”
Large group spaces have also been incorporated into the modern design to create more of a collegiate feel for older students. For instance, there will be a coffee shop type space where students can go when they have a free period, replacing the herded feeling of study halls.
Other important considerations were color schemes that have been shown to promote a sense of calm and versatile furniture choices. “Almost all of our furniture can be adjusted for the size of students, and you’ll find very flexible arrangements that include standing desks, high-top table desks as well as traditional desks — whatever it is that helps students be most successful,” Spiccia says.
In addition, the new facility will have improved athletic areas, a beautiful performing arts center that seats 500 and the expansion of the Family Resource Center, a community center that offers free services to many who are in need.
Assets to the Community
The new Willoughby South and Eastlake North high schools opened in 2019 and ushered in a new era of structured learning for students in grades 9 through 12 in the Willoughby-Eastlake School District.
Both schools were designed to facilitate collaborative learning coupled with partnerships to expand learning opportunities for students. For example, there are kiosks managed by Cardinal Credit Union. The Credit Union sends employees to the school to run the kiosks, and students work with the banking partner. This enables them to learn finance and banking skills.
The district was also able to incorporate the most up-to-date safety measures. For example, 3M film has been installed on windows to delay access of an intruder. There are also cameras throughout the buildings, as well as bullpen entrances and secured entrances.
“Building new schools is an opportunity that very few districts have the chance to experience. It was my privilege to come together with staff members, students and the citizens in the community to be able to provide safe, state-of-the-art facilities that will serve students for generations to come,” says superintendent Stephen L. Thompson.
During the planning phases of the construction for South High School, the district collaborated with the city of Willoughby and the YMCA and built shared spaces to keep costs down and provide additional opportunities for all community members.
“Including shared spaces in our construction projects has given all community members an asset that Willoughby-Eastlake is proud to provide,” Thompson adds.