GFW Community Members Tour Schools to Set Priorities for New Facility

Members of the site team, staff, and community explore modern learning spaces and discuss priorities for a PreK-12 facility.

On Friday, June 9, a bus loaded with 34 GFW community members set out on a day full of school tours to see modern learning environments in action. With visits to schools in Hutchinson, Willmar, Delano, and St. Peter, the group got to see a wide variety of spaces constructed in the past six years that are currently serving students. 

The group consisted of staff, middle school students, a board member, parents, business representatives, and community members. Director of Student and Community Programs Tonia Schiro said that there was great excitement from the adults on the tour in watching the middle school students' reactions to different spaces. 

“Those are the students who will be in the new building, and it was so great to see what they were excited about,” said Schiro. “My favorite thing was seeing schools with more of an open concept instead of long hallways with classrooms lined up. We heard from principals that the open concept and natural light really gave everyone a refreshing feeling.”

The group also got to see classroom spaces set up in a pod system with grade level teams connected with flexible work spaces for group work and small group instruction. Natural light and open spaces also sparked a lot of discussion, while students got most excited about classrooms designed for particular programming like band rooms with built-in cases for instruments, different options for furniture and seating, and CTE classrooms with dedicated equipment for career-focused programming. 

“Seeing all the different layouts of the school was very helpful to see in person,” said community member Catherine Schiro, who attended the trip. “Seeing how different lighting and the number of windows can change the feel of the school and rooms and how to get a timeless look for the building inside and outside was great.”

The theme of flexible and welcoming spaces was seen in all of the schools, with the modern way of teaching and learning being more focused on small group instruction, collaboration, and breakout time. By grouping different subjects and grade levels together, it creates an environment where students and teachers can really focus and work on a variety of different types of learning in one space. 

“Another thing they had in common was that the walls were very clean and minimal with some paint of school colors, but not a ton of posters,” said Tonia. “Staff members really liked some of the service areas that had a good flow, and Winthrop Police Chief Logan Anderson shared with us about different setups and how they would impact safety and security.”

School tours were provided by building principals as well as representatives from Wold Architects. Principals shared about their own processes including having some elements that they identified as priorities that they ended up not needing, like full locker spaces, and things they wished they would have thought of before construction.

“I really liked being able to hear from schools who they would have liked to change,” said Catherine. “My priority for the new school is safety and function for preschool students through high school and having the building be usable for the community.”

The group came together to share what they liked and didn’t like and that feedback will be used in the design process of the new PreK-12 facility. There are also plans to tour additional PreK-12 buildings to get a sense for how other districts are using the model. 

“It is amazing that so many people were able to take about ten hours out of their day and come do this with us,” said Tonia. “The involvement of the GFW community is truly inspiring and we have a good group of people providing strong input and asking realistic questions throughout this process.” 

The group will continue to meet through the design process to create a truly community-centered school for GFW Public Schools as the district plans for a new facility and transitions to a Full Service Community Schools model that is focused on strengthening connections with the community and providing services and resources beyond the school day.