CCSD21 will soon officially start the rollout procedures for updated, “21st century” furniture in classrooms after the COVID-19 public health emergency shifted the ability to consider it.
As defined by Micheal DeBartolo, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, “21st century” furniture would include more tables, flexible seating and more independent work areas. It is a much more creative approach than traditional rows of single desks. “During COVID, the capacity wasn’t there [to have this updated furniture] discussion because we had gone back to single desks, rows, dividers,” he notes.
Now that the public health emergency is better understood and manageable, the district is able to revisit the work of the furniture committee that had started during the referendum process. That group continued its work and planning while the immediate referendum work was being performed – air conditioning, secure vestibules and kindergarten rooms were always the initial priorities. In early 2020, emails were issued to the reestablished committee and its members to revisit the initial work. Flash forward to February, the entire world changed.
“When the world shut down, between the manner in which education was being delivered and not knowing how long that would last, to be able to deal with 21st century furniture at the same time that teachers were thrust back to an early 2000s method of educating students, we just weren’t in a place to engage people in the process,” DeBartolo said.
The work has since been revived, with district officials reviewing what progress was made during the committee’s initial phases. However, the committee’s work from 2018-2019 really set the stage for the final design with a few enhancements made due to the evolution of needs for classroom furniture post-COVID. The district has also engaged with furniture consultants and designers, and is now at the point where the designs will be rolled out this year. Initially, summer 2023 will see the new furniture in first- and second-grade classrooms as well as the language arts classrooms in the middle schools.
“I’m very excited,” said Dr. Michael Connolly, superintendent of CCSD21. “This is something that we’ve talked about since 2018. And while the pandemic did slow us down, now that we’re able to get back to it, we will have classroom environments that are going to have the furniture to capture the kind of learning that our kids actually do now, rather than the kind of learning they did 30 years ago.”
One other focus, DeBartolo adds, is that the district is truly trying to establish the designs and hopefully get them into classrooms for the 2023-2024 school year for self-contained classrooms. It also hopes to pilot the furniture designs in district resource rooms.
It should be noted that summer 2024, and possibly, summer 2025 will be equally as busy. Summer 2024 is slated for new furniture in third-, fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms as well as the additional classrooms in the middle schools. Exploratory classrooms and common spaces are also getting a new look during this furniture overhaul.
Dr. Beatrice Childress Reyes, assistant superintendent for equity and learning, noted that the next wave at the middle schools will be math and social studies classrooms. Science classrooms will be toward the end of the rollout to give the district a chance to look at the labs and find the best configuration for those classrooms.
“We’re rolling this out and within three years, to be able to revamp the entire furniture footprint of the district, is really thrilling,” Connolly adds.