As the clock struck 9 on Thursday morning at the new Shaw Middle School, it was time to appreciate the moment.
For almost 20 minutes, dignitaries took turns at the lectern, each praising hard work that went into building not only Shaw, but the rest of the complex known as the Hillyard Community Campus.
The speakers thanked students, families, taxpayers and one another – after all, the campus is the biggest intergovernmental collaboration in Spokane since Expo ’74.
For about $70 million, the neighborhoods of northeast Spokane are getting a state-of-the-art middle school as well as a new home for one of its alternative high schools, the Lisa Mattson On Track Academy.
“This isn’t just a school, it’s a 21st century school, and Spokane should be so proud to provide this kind of experience,” said Adam Swinyard, superintendent of Spokane Public Schools.
Also in the mix are a new shared library, community outreach and a pedestrian-friendly Cook Street that will allow easier access to the entire campus.
For Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward, the project “answered the question of how we can work on something special together.”
Woodward added: “I can’t wait to see the difference this campus makes in the lives of the students and in the lives of this neighborhood.”
That depends partly on the work by students and their families. Buildings don’t teach, but they can elevate the craft. Windows don’t enlighten; however, they can brighten the mood for children who know mostly darkness at home.
In that sense, the new Shaw is more than $43 million of brick and steel. It represents opportunity and challenge.
It fell to Spokane City Council member Michael Cathcart to not only seize the moment, but challenge others to seize the momentum going forward.
Cathcart, who represents northeast Spokane, praised all involved for their “persistence, tenacity and innovation in completing this investment in what has been the most unusual year.”
He continued: “No matter where you live, a great education should be accessible to you. A lack of access can have dire consequences, which is why quality facilities, such as this school, as well as the library, play such a critical role in equalizing opportunity for all.”
Opportunities are also being created in northwest Spokane, where the new Glover Middle School was opening at the same moment. Four more middle schools will go online in the next two years thanks to a $495 million capital bond approved by voters in 2018.
The timing was also good for the district, which recently approved a boundary revision that was criticized on equity grounds. The new facilities will be augmented by another $6 million in equity funding from the federal CARES program.
Older students will benefit too. The new On Track facility promises to meet students in the moment, no matter how stressful.
“A lot of these students are in transition, and we want to make sure they get all the assets they need,” said Greg Forsyth, the district’s director of capital projects, during a recent tour. To that end, On Track has laundry facilities, a kitchenette and other basics.
Lori Wyborney understands the need. Formerly the principal at Rogers High School, she is now the director of all schools feeding into Rogers and more than another face in the crowd.
Recalling the renovations at Rogers in 2009, Wyborney recalled “a swelling of pride, a great moment for the community.”
Coincidentally or not, the graduation rate at Rogers has soared during the past decade, from around 60% to almost 90% this year.
Behind Wyborney stood the real guests of honor, the 700 students at Shaw, who gathered in a crowd that stretched south almost to Garland Avenue.
Eighth-grader Akira Edgerton, who was at Glover last year, just wanted to be back in any building after enduring remote learning most of last year.
“I didn’t like it because sometimes it was hard to understand the teachers when they talked,” Edgerton said. “But I’m excited to meet new people and stretch my knowledge this year.”
Another eighth-grader, Alyssiena Alexander, said she appreciated the shiny newness of her new school. However, she’s counting on the people inside to do what they did last year.”
“I like my school because everyone around me helped build me up and build my confidence,” Alexander said.
After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Principal Jon Swett welcomed them into the brightly-appointed building – “Your building,” one official repeated through a megaphone.
As students walked into the building, they grabbed meals and walked upstairs, then to “neighborhoods” that are grouped by grade level.
Neighborhoods will be divided into four rooms for the core subjects of math, English, social studies and science, while other classes will be taught in special areas. Each neighborhood has breakout rooms for small-group activities.
This year, Shaw will serve only 7th- and 8th-graders; sixth-graders will join them next year, when two new middle schools go online in north Spokane.