March of renovations, additions open Tacoma school year

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Elementary Students with Hands Raised
The Tacoma School District has filed a brief with the court regarding the McCleary lawsuit, stating that the new state formula for funding basic education is actually worse than the old system that was deemed unconstitutional. Photo courtesy of Tacoma Public Schools.

School starts in Tacoma next week, and students will see changes around the district following a summer of construction and improvements.

The district, for example, will host a ceremony at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 8 at Lowell Elementary School to mark the installation of new school zone safety beacons around the school to promote safety of children walking to school, which is located on a main arterial. The beacons are part of the citywide street improvement program to improve safety at 27 school zones in the city.

The new Arlington Elementary reopens on the first day of school on Sept. 6 and is the first elementary school in the district to follow the concept of flexible learning spaces that allow rooms to be easily reconfigured to best match the project or assignment. The building will also use more natural light, courtesy of skylights and windows. Classrooms have sliding glass doors that open to shared learning spaces. Every classroom is also near a courtyard to access and interact with nature. Students and families will be able to tour the campus and learn more about the $25.5 million school at a “meet the teacher” night at 5 p.m. Sept. 5.

Construction on Mary Lyon Elementary started this summer, so students have temporarily shifted to the old McKinley Elementary School until that school opens in the fall of 2018. Work is also underway on a new Browns Point Elementary School, which will open next August. During construction, students will continue to attend classes in the original Browns Point Elementary School building and old Meeker Middle School building.

Overall view of the progress at the East stair and Bridge span.
Tacoma’s Science and Math Institute (SAMI) will open at the new Early Learning Center at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in October. The center will feature SAMI classrooms, including two science labs and administrative space, as well as space for zoo staff and volunteers. Photo courtesy of Tacoma Public Schools.

Likely the most noticeable new building in the district will be the district’s Science and Math Institute (SAMI), which will open inside the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in October. The innovative Environmental Learning Center comes through a $19 million partnership between the school district and Metro Parks Tacoma to feature SAMI classrooms and science labs as well as space for zoo staff and volunteers. This project is a partnership between Tacoma Public Schools and Metro Parks Tacoma.

The changes at the school district this year don’t just include walls and windows. The middle and high schools will host open houses in October and November to fifth and eighth graders, respectively, to allow them early looks at the opportunities each school will offer them the following year.

On the district-wide level, Tacoma and other school districts around the state have filed an amicus brief with the state Supreme Court over the McCleary lawsuit, which found that the state was not properly funding public schools. The district holds that the legislature’s new funding formula is actually worse than the old funding method that was deemed inadequate and unconstitutional. District officials estimate the funding method translates to about $151 less money per student this year alone. That drop comes even if voters approve two levy renewals that will be on the ballot next February.

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