Santa Rita Middle School designed for new teaching techniques

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By Christian Betancourt

Students at Santa Rita Middle School will benefit from a school designed with new ways of teaching in mind. The school will showcase a new teaching method where teachers will share students and classrooms.

“Teachers can go from class to class without having that wall or barrier between them,” said SRMS Principal Josh Curtis. “It goes back to the philosophy of ‘all means all.’ (Teachers) don’t just have a classroom of kids on their roster. Every student that’s in the building becomes one of their kids.”

No classroom is assigned to an individual educator. Instead, they work in teacher pods and go to classrooms separated by content area allowing for the facilities to be utilized in their entirety 100 percent of the time.

“Normally, you use 80-85 percent of your building throughout the day,” said Curtis. “We don’t need to have as many classrooms because now all the classrooms are being utilized at all times during the day.”

Curtis will lead the new school of Liberty Hill sixth, seventh and eighth graders. He began his career in Liberty Hill as an assistant principal at the Intermediate School seven years ago before taking the helm and becoming principal.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “We will probably open with 800 students. I think it is going to be an awesome facility, and it’s going to be great for student learning. I’m excited to get in here and help the Santa Rita community learn and grow and become more successful than they already are.”

The school will grow along with the district, and Curtis suspects his enrollment will surpass Liberty Hill Middle School.

“Starting out, we will be relatively comparative in size, and then in two years, we’ll probably have 300 more students than them,” he said.

An expansion for an extra wing to the school was approved at last week’s Board of Trustees meeting.

“In December, they’re starting the expansion,” said Curtis.

Santa Rita Middle School will offer various sports for students.

“We have football, volleyball, basketball, soccer, tennis, cross country, and track,” said Curtis.

A workforce of 70 will handle the teaching and administration of the building.

“I had about 50 percent of the staff members came over with me from the Intermediate, and then the rest we hired from outside the district,” said Curtis.

LHISD hired Sledge Engineering as an owner’s representative to work as an intermediary between the construction crews and the district to ensure smooth work and completion times were executed as scheduled. Program Manager Casey Sledge serves as the boots-on-the-ground person for the project.

“It was going very well, and we were ahead of schedule,” said Sledge. “COVID wasn’t too bad a year ago. Not until we approached this summer, supplies started to become an issue. Routine construction items became difficult to find. It started to slow down day by day, and it started to build. Then in the summer, it became an issue.”

Contractors were having staffing problems leading to a delay in construction, he said.

“Each individual company was starting to lose labor crews,” said Sledge. “It became a struggle. That’s been the issue through today. If we’d been full labor, we’d probably be further along. Nevertheless, we’re going to get ready for the kids to be here Thursday. They have been working seven-day weeks for almost three months now.”

Labor was done by more than 150 people working each day simultaneously to complete construction of the 150,000-square-foot building. Sledge said during the shortage, the labor force was cut in half.

“We had 60 or 70 through the summer,” he said. “It’s been hurting. Each individual crew was working longer days, seven-day weeks, and working odd hours. It’s been really stressful.”

Construction will continue on the school while the students are not present; however, Sledge said no inconveniences would be present for the students who will have a fully functional school to attend come the first day of school.

“We have some compromises to make as we move, but we feel good for when the kids get here,” he said. “The classroom wing is on the west end of the building. We started there and built this way. The only construction still happening is finishing touches in the athletic area.”

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