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March 6, 2018 > MilpitasÕ new elementary school on track to completion

MilpitasÕ new elementary school on track to completion

By Rhoda J. Shapiro

For the past two months, Director of Facilities Modernization Joe Flatley has been flying a drone over the construction site of Mabel Mattos Elementary, the new school in Milpitas expected to be completed by July 2018. Each week, the drone flies the exact same flight path, capturing all of the latest building advancements. Flatley plans to cut the video into a montage after construction is finished, so viewers can travel through time, seeing the school construction come together before their eyes.

"We broke ground last August, and weÕre cranking right along. We're on schedule. Things are moving very quickly. IÕm really happy with this construction team. The contractors are great to work with and thereÕs a lot of mutual trust,Ó said Flatley.

School construction will be in three phases. This Summer will see completion of Phase 1, which will include an administration building and a building for kindergarten through second grade classes; this will accommodate 250 students. Once that is complete, Phases 2 and 3 will construct two additional classroom buildings, along with a multi-purpose room, raising the new school's capacity to nearly 900 kids.

ÒWhen Joe sent me the first video from the drone with the framing up, I thought, itÕs real. IÕm really excited. But IÕm also worried because I know it wonÕt be complete unless we can get the community to pass a bond to finish it,Ó said Milpitas Unified School DistrictÕs (MUSD) Superintendent Cheryl Jordan. ÒWe want people to understand that the Bond isnÕt just about opening up Mattos for all that itÕs intended. But it also creates space in the other neighborhood schools. Right now, those students who would be going to Mattos -- some are at Rose, Zanker, and Spangler. Having this new school would free up space so that people in those schools will be able to attend their home school instead of being overflowed to some other school. And then thereÕs also the whole piece of eventually expanding high school classrooms and building a new high school campus.Ó

Flatley also expressed some concern; he hopes that the second-grade students will have a new building to advance to by the time theyÕre ready for third grade.

But as uncertain as the future may be, the team knows it must stay focused on the completion of Phase 1, so that the school will be ready for students to enter at the start of the next school year this coming August.

Mabel Mattos Elementary will consist of learning communities throughout all buildings. Walls between classrooms will be glass for full visibility and sliding panels between classrooms will allow classes to learn and collaborate together.

"Imagine a whole grade level with no walls between the classrooms. One big classroom,Ó said Flatley. "So, part of the day it will work like that. Another part of the day, theyÕll slide panels closed and create smaller classroom spaces. So, it will go from traditional classrooms to a big learning community, and back and forth. I think weÕre the first public school in the state to do this. It was a challenge getting it approved by the Department of Education Ñ but theyÕre excited. They helped us with this. They want to come out and see it in operation.Ó

Superintendent Jordan feels that by having a learning community to support them, kids will be able to develop soft skills that businesses are looking for in employees Ñ things like getting along with other people, learning how to create and execute projects, and playing off each otherÕs strengths. Children will be given the opportunity to take ownership of their own learning and evolution.

"We know from Montessori practices that kids as young as three years old can take control of their learning and guide themselves. In a sense, the learning community idea provides that space for them to do that,Ó said Superintendent Jordan. "Because theyÕll have the opportunity to learn in their home groups and as a large community group. And theyÕll have more than just one teacher all day long. TheyÕll have the grade level collaboration team. So that they have several teachers watching out for them. And the teachers donÕt just have Ômy' little group of kids; they have Ôour' kids."

On Tuesday, January 23, MUSDÕs Board of Education announced that Jackie Vo-Felbinger had been chosen as Founding Principal for Mabel Mattos Elementary School.

Vo-Felbinger, who has served as the Principal of Curtner Elementary School (also in Milpitas) for the last six years, had been invited to participate in initial design conversations, long before the building of the school began. She is looking forward to being part of a school that has its foundations in a learning community model.

ÒTo be able to take that idea and put it into a place that doesnÕt have history yet, you can really design and iterate on that. And you can do it freely and flexibly. Also, to be able to think your way through something that will really support studentsÕ learning is very exciting. ItÕs a rare opportunity to get to be the school leader that helps make that happen. And I just feel so lucky.Ó

The school district still needs to hire five teachers for Mabel MattosÕ first group of students. This will call for a process of starting small, then growing quickly, as funds allow for more growth.

"Hiring the teachers will be a very thoughtful process in that the teachers need to know what theyÕre getting themselves into,Ó said Assistant Superintendent of Learning and Development Norma Rodriguez. "They have to be passionate and want to work in an environment where there are no walls. ThereÕs just a group of educators providing instruction in a diverse and flexible modality. Times are changing. We need to adapt and be ready for it."

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