School of the Future

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Rarely has Mike Looney been more excited about going to school.

An educator for 13 years and superintendent of the Butler County School System since July 2005, Looney will be among a team of visitors from Alabama Wednesday who will visit the School of the Future in Philadelphia.

A $63 million joint venture between Microsoft Corp. and the School District of Philadelphia, the School of the Future opened in 2006 with 170 freshmen and will reach full 750-student capacity, incorporating innovative technology throughout the curriculum and facility.

&#8220I can't wait,” Looney said Tuesday, preparing for the trip. &#8220It's a one-of-a-kind school and will obviously provide us with unique ideas for the future here. We hope to get a perspective on how visionary, national leaders think regarding the school of our future and we'll also be looking to steal ideas that will apply at home, that will allow us to use the latest in programs and technology as we move ahead.”

Looney will oversee construction of a $15 million, 100,000-square foot Kindergarten-12th grade building on 62.3-acre site in Georgiana.

&#8220Our new complex will be the most significant thing to happen in Georgiana for years,” he admitted. &#8220It will provide our community its best chance ever to grow and prosper and any ideas we're able to take away from the School of the Future will only enhance our opportunities.”

Built in a traditionally low-income neighborhood near the Philadelphia zoo, the school was designed as a working model, one whose concept could be adapted and replicated by other systems seeking ways to broaden and deepen the educational experience. Microsoft chose not to fund the construction, but rather to donate human resources, assigning educators and technical assistance to create the learning environment.

&#8220Only 20 people are allowed to visit each day,” Looney said, &#8220and that makes our visit even more special.”

Superintendents from Hartselle City and Elmore County systems will also attend, as will representatives from Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood Co. of Montgomery.

Meanwhile, the Butler County school leader continues to monitor progress on the Georgiana construction and developments on the multi-million dollar bonds proposal for construction at Alabama schools statewide.

A variety of ground tests and wetlands studies have been positive on Highway 31 site in Georgiana, promoting optimism for a June 1 closing.

Preliminary plans call for split wings in the K-12 complex with elementary and high school divisions, divided by common components and interior courtyards. Separate gymnasiums for elementary and high school age groups will be built. Self-contained pods, dictated by career paths, will create a school-in-a-school concept for high school students.

&#8220We are working to build the most functional facility possible,” Looney said, &#8220and we're also working to reflect the rich heritage and history of the area in our design work.”

Continued discussion about the amount of money to allocate for state school construction and how that money will be divided among K-12, secondary and higher education institutions will delay an actual vote, but the Butler chief remains optimistic.

Estimates are the bond total could now reach or even exceed $1 billion.

&#8220We want our portion,” he said, &#8220and as the size of the bond issue grows, we expect our share to also grow as well. From what we've heard, it appears our share should be between $800,000 and $2.3 million.”

Regardless of the amount, he said development of the area that now houses Greenville Elementary and W.O. Parmer Elementary would remain a high priority.

&#8220Our goal is to replace those facilities on site and to ultimately have new facilities there,” he said. &#8220While not perfect because of the railroad track, the location is a good one. It is convenient in that it allows parents to walk their children to school and it also carries historic significance for the community.”

The seven-school system currently has 3,500 students and operates on a budget approaching $27 million.