Larry Robbins believes the patrons who approved the Topeka Unified School District 501’s $143 million bond issue will be getting their money’s worth from the $33 million Jardine Elementary School that will open in August.
“To take those dollars and really change the face and the landscape of Topeka Public Schools, you know, is extremely rewarding,” USD 501’s deputy supertintendent said on Friday. “I think the taxpayers and those who voted in support of our bond (issue) will be very happy, very pleased to see what we have done with those dollars.”
Members of the Topeka media got the chance to tour the new 800-student capacity elementary school on Friday that will open to students in August. The facility, the most expensive construction project of the 2014 bond issue, is connected to the current Jardine Middle School which represents the third preschool through eighth-grade campus that USD 501 has built. The State Street-Chase and Ross-Eisenhower campuses were constructed in 2012. Bishop, Avondale West and Shaner closed in May as traditional elementary schools and those students will feed into the new Jardine facility.
Angela Soper, who was the principal at Bishop Elementary, said getting to be Jardine Elementary’s first principal is a bit daunting, given it will be one of the largest elementary schools in Kansas and in the Midwest region.
“It can be overwhelming but I am so honored and I am so excited,” she said. “This is an amazing opportunity to open a building that is cutting edge, forward thinking, 21st Century. To be able to start that from scratch is an honor.”
When the doors open on Aug. 15 for the first day of school, there will be five classrooms each for kindergarten through fifth-grade students along with three preschool classrooms.
“I hope that we have schools and teachers and groups that want to come here and see the amazing things that we’re doing here,” Soper continued. “That would be my dream, if I’m able to lead that charge and do that successfully.”
Soper said district officials believe the Jardine campus is a model for how the increasing need for specialized support services can be integrated into one facility given that Capital City middle school students and Hope Street Elementary School students will have their own space on the Jardine campus.
“It’s hard to transition kiddos in when they’re in separate buildings,” she said. “We’re in a unique general education setting. It lowers the stress levels.”
To help provide wrap-around services, Jardine will also have four full-time counselors, a dean of students who will focus on trauma-informed care and space for Family Service and Guidance Center staff to work full-time in the building, holding group therapy sessions and providing other social-emotional supports, Soper said.
“When we did the bond issue, it was about how we could better serve students and how we can expand our capacity to really meet their needs where they are,” said USD 501 board member Janel Johnson. “To see those pieces coming together, not only with the building itself but with the programming and the staffing, it is encouraging, it is very satisfying. When the students come into the building, that’s when I’m going to be even more excited to see what we designed it to do.”
Because the Jardine campus will have a focus on science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, or STEAM, Soper said much of the curriculum will include project-based learning. There are four discovery areas set up with dry erase and Promethean boards that will allow students to collaborate on projects outside of their traditional classroom. A teacher who is transferring to Jardine from Bishop Elementary is one of the first recipients of a new STEM leadership certification at Emporia State University.
“This is what ideally of what we’d like to do everywhere (in USD 501),” added superintendent Tiffany Anderson. “It’s a model of what it could look like.”
Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 0r follow her on Twitter @AngelaDeines.