Editors Note: As the September 14, 2021 bond election nears Ada News occasional contributor Pat Fountain recently sat down with Ada City Schools Superintendent Mike Anderson to talk about the bond issue voters are being asked to pass. Today, we will look at the process that led to the upcoming vote, the need for the new facilities and what will happen to the old grade centers.
Before I could hardly pull out my yellow pad, arrange my pens, and get comfortable in Mike Anderson's modest office in the back of the Ada City School Systems Central Office he made one thing very clear. The first thing we were going to talk about was the cost of what the project would be to the citizens of Ada. Because, he said, that is the most important thing people need to know.
"People need to know what they are being asked to do," he stated.
"We have been completely transparent and are not trying to hide anything from anybody," he said. "This is not something I came up with by myself and it will be up to the voters to decide.
"It is something that will have a big price tag, but many believe it is something we must do now for the future. This bond initiative is an investment in our students, in our schools and in our community."
To his dismay I told him we would get to that and asked my first question. And we will get to that.
"This proposal is the result of an extensive strategic planning initiative that included input from parents, teachers, staff and community stakeholders," he answered when I asked about the process to get to the bond proposal.
He explained the process was started a little over three years ago, and the plan was unveiled during the 2018-2019 school year.
"The strategic plan that was developed called for the creation of two new elementary grade centers, as well as improvements across all district sites," he said. "The plan also called for vehicles to better meet our transportation needs."
State law requires transportation bonds be voted on separately, so there are actually two proposals to be decided on when voting takes place.
Anderson said the process started with the strategic planning committee examining past strategies and practices in an effort to identify successes and failures. A thorough examination was then started on the current state and what the district hoped to become.
By doing this and then listening to stakeholders the committee was able to identify and develop key areas, goals and action steps to help move Ada City Schools forward in the effort to achieve the school system's mission.
That mission is: "To prepare all students to be engaged and high performing citizens with the social, academic and professional skills to succeed in a global society."
And so now, on Tuesday, September 14, 2021 and in early voting Ada voters are being asked to approve two bond proposals totaling $74,160,000 for facilities and $400,000 for transportation needs.
For local taxpayers the cost will be $1.00 per month per $100 of 2020/2021 property taxes paid.
Why do we need new schools?
Anderson explained that it's not because they are old. But because the number of rooms in the school buildings, the purpose for which the rooms were built in the '50s and '60s and what the rooms can be used for limits the school system's ability to expand what they are able to do for students.
"Our teachers are doing some incredible things with what we have," he explained. "We are ranked the 22nd best high school in Oklahoma by U.S. News and World Report.
"We continually have students and groups receive state and national recognition for their accomplishments in music, in drama, in speech, in drama and in our new aviation program."
He assured me nothing is broken, and that all is good for the Ada City School System and its students. The "system" is doing much better than just getting by.
So, why are new school buildings needed now?
The answer was simple, honest, realistic and sincere.
"In today's world if you are standing still, you are moving backwards," he explained. "To move forward and to keep improving and seeing our students continue to do great things and reach even greater heights we need new facilities."
"And the longer we wait, the more it will cost," he continued. "The time is now."
Ada students are successfully learning in educational environments built for teaching "readin' and writin' and 'rithmetic" to six grades of students using technology that included blackboards, filmstrips and, into the '70s, mimeograph machines.
When Washington and Willard grade centers were built most students walked to school and field trips were rare. There were no thoughts or dreams of science labs, calculators or computers much less flight simulators. (NOTE: for readers who are not familiar with filmstrips and mimeograph machines ask your grandparents. For readers who are not familiar with flight simulators ask your grandkids!).
After listening to Anderson speak to a local civic group one listener compared it to a car race, because, well, he said, "Life is a race and the ones best equipped for the race will do better."
"The ones that are best equipped for the race will win the race" he explained. "We are expecting our students to win a car race in the future when they are being trained in cars that over 60 years old.
"You won't see cars from the 1960s in the Indianapolis 500 this year, Imagine taking a driver from 1960 and putting them in one of today's race cars and expecting them to do well.
"That's what we are doing to our students. When they go to a university or to a trade school or to the military or to a job they will be far behind those who were trained in schools with the latest designs, safety and ADA features and technology."
"Ada students are winning races and competing, but imagine how much better they could do if they were able to be on the same level of playing field as those racers with the best equipment."
What will happen to the old schools?
Anderson laughed as he answered.
"It's pretty simple when you think about it, but pretty complicated to explain without a blackboard," he said.
After talking with him I went home and turned what I thought he said into a chart. (NOTE: He has checked and made a couple of corrections. So, now, it really is the way he explained it.)
Who goes where and when? In three easy (to explain anyway) steps here is what will happen.
Step One) When the new school for first, second and third graders is open those grades will meet there.
Step Two) While Washington is being demolished and the new school for fourth and fifth graders is being built fourth graders will be at Hayes (third graders will be in the new school).
Step Three) When the new school for fourth and fifth graders is open on the old Washington site fourth and fifth graders will meet there, and sixth graders will possibly move to Hayes while the current Willard building is being renovated and modernized. This will depend on how much work is to be done and when the work can be done at Willard. It is hoped much of it can be done in the summer.
When Finished) First, second and third graders will be in a new school on a new site. Fourth and fifth graders will be in a new school on the current Washington site and sixth graders will be in the current Willard building after it has been renovated and modernized. Seventh, eighth and ninth graders will be at the current junior high and 10th, 11th and 12th graders will be at the current high school.
Why keep the old Willard Building and not start over there?
We can only ask for so much Anderson explained. He said a lot of what is done at Willard will depend on the project budget and available funds.
"It was the building best suited to be modernized and renovated in a way that it will be comparable to the new buildings," he said. "It will be a great home and educational facility for our sixth graders."
He added that the building is in a great location in central Ada and across the street from East Central University.
"Our students are on the ECU campus many times a year for a variety of cultural, learning, athletic and other activities and we want that to continue," he said.
"Not many schools can send their students across the street for the inexpensive, valuable and educational field trips we are able to arrange with East Central or to which they invite us to bring our students."