Doors open to Battle Creek Schools in Spring Hill
Doors open to Battle Creek Schools in Spring Hill

Jul 27, 2019

By Mike Christen

Battle Creek Elementary School and Battle Creek Middle School will welcome their first students on the first day of school next week bringing to life the district’s vision for the future of education in southern Middle Tennessee.

On Saturday, the two schools were visited by hundreds of families as they entered the buildings for the very first time during a special weekend open house at the schools focused on science, technology, engineering and math.

“What we have done in Maury County is build buildings to facilitate our shift in instruction,” Superintendent Chris Marczak told The Daily Herald. “This building is constructed with curriculum first and function second.”

The two new schools embody the school district’s move toward problem and project-based learning.

A student-centered teaching method involving a dynamic classroom approach, Marczak says project-based learning allows students to acquire a deeper knowledge through active exploration of real-world challenges and problems. The method encourages students to develop the critical thinking skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace.

“These campuses help facilitate that problem solving,” Marczak said. “You are using the tools at your fingertips to work with your friends and fellow students to solve problems. Employers say they are lacking those skills in the workforce, but here at Battle Creek Elementary we are preparing students for those needs as early as five years old.”

The superintendent says the two new schools show that Maury County is ready to lead the state in a new way to educate students.

“We don’t need to have schools that look like factories anymore,” Marczak said. “The only constant in the universe is change and education has to change to meet the needs of the workforce of the 21st century. We hope that we can become a lighthouse for the State of Tennessee.”

Inside the two new schools, visitors saw wings of each building home to four open classrooms. Each room has a large moveable glass accordion-style door that can either separate or be opened to feed into a large shared common space.

“The space is so vast it invites the openness of thought and collaborative learning,” said Mike Kinnard, the assistant principal of Battle Creek Elementary School. “The new buildings incite opportunities for the students to ask questions and grow.”

Each classroom is equipped with the latest technology allowing for the district to continue its initiative to prepare students for today’s tech-driven work environment.

“The technology is going to be a big thing,” said Andrea Helton, a kindergarten teacher. “We can’t be stuck back in time. It is going to be about moving forward. It feels a little like Christmas.”

The elementary school, a 90,000-square foot structure designed for 700 students will welcome its first 475 students next week.

The middle school, a 126,000 square foot structure, will be a second home to about 550 students.

The new schools will create a decrease in enrollment at the region’s surrounding middle and elementary schools, giving local educators more time with all students in the public school system.

At each of the two new buildings, teachers have the ability to change the color and brightness of their classroom’s LED lights, which have been reported to help calm students and increase focus in certain situations.

Large windows will also allow for each classroom to be filled with natural light throughout the day.

The modern aesthetic continues throughout the interior of both structures with nearly each room inside the school divided by glass windows rather than traditional brick walls.

As students work inside their own classrooms, they will be able to look into a neighboring teachers’ lounge and watch their own educators planning sessions together, said Battle Creek Middle School Principal Will Penner.

“We want there to be transparency,” Penner said. “When people are trying to learn in a project-based environment they learn by working together in a collaborative setting.”

It is a setting that has excited educators in Middle Tennessee and across the nation, as some teachers have traveled from as far away as Texas and Pennsylvania to work at the new schools.

More than 700 teachers applied for positions at Battle Creek Schools, more than 400 were interviewed but only 55 were ultimately selected.

“Teachers who said that they loved the idea of an open concept and students sharing, those are the teachers that you see here in these buildings,” Marczak said. “We have built it to make the academics fit the building.”

The structures were designed by David Minnigan of Earl Swensson Associates, who also helped design the AT&T Building in Nashville among other celebrated projects. The construction of the two schools was done by Bell & Associates. The Nashville firm was also contracted to build Columbia Central High School in 2014.

From the start of the design process, the school district’s Superintendent of Facilities Stan Breeden and owner advocate Hewlett-Spencer worked collaboratively throughout the process to keep costs low and move forward with what would ultimately be determined as best for the district’s students.

The two new schools come at a cost of more than $60 million that will be paid for over the next 20 years.

While touring the facility on Saturday, Maury County Budget Committee Chairman Scott Sumners called the two major investments an experiment that will determine the future of the county’s school system and potentially the state.

Located at 3451 Mahlon Moore Road, the two new schools sit on a more than 200-acre site. The property, acquired by the school district in 2016, is planned to eventually serve the region as a K-12 campus, with at least three separate structures housing the elementary, middle and high schools, all centered on problem-based learning.

Naming the two new schools was in itself a collaborative community effort.

Recommendations were collected from the community through an online survey and then naming committee, consisting of parents, teachers, students, a principal, a school board member and district administrators who then gathered to review the suggestions and make a recommendation to the board.

Many patrons and students attending the event Saturday expressed enthusiasm for the two new campuses.

“The classrooms are innovative,” said Jimmy Lee, as he visited Battle Creek Elementary with his wife and children. “We are excited the kids get the opportunity to come here and experience these new settings.”

Their children were particularity interested in a set of octagonal cubbies built into a shelf inside the school library.

“It just seems like a good environment with a lot of hands on tools,” said Rachel Lee. “We are excited for our kids.”