Brockton's Newest School Opens October 21st
Posted 11/21/2008 12:00PM


Brockton's newest school opened its doors on Quincy Street October 21st, ushering in a new era of technologically-enhanced education. The Mary E. Baker School is the city's first "green school" to utilize the latest energy-conservation technologies. The Baker is one of two new schools to open in Brockton during the 2008-2009 school year.

"It is our job to prepare today's students for the challenges of tomorrow, and to do that we must provide them with the tools they need to succeed in a global marketplace," said Superintendent of Schools Basan Nembirkow. "The Baker School is at the forefront of 21st century school design - from interactive whiteboards in every classroom to the cutting-edge energy systems and solar panels - this school is a model of learning."

The 112,000-square-foot building at 45 Quincy Street is a virtual twin to the Manthala George Jr. School, which is slated to open this winter on Colonel Bell Drive. Designed by HMFH Architects and built by Agostini Construction, each school will house approximately 750 students. The two schools cost a total of $67 million, with 90 percent reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Assistance Bureau.

The Quincy Street School is named for Mary E. Baker, a community organizer and advocate for city youth who served as Massasoit Community College's first Minority Outreach Coordinator. The school on Colonel Bell Drive is named for former Brockton Public Schools Superintendent Manthala George, Jr., a dynamic leader who led the city's school department from 1984-1994, a decade of progress in spite of dire financial constraints.

The buildings are brightly lit and cheery, instilling a sense of light of cheerfulness. Designed with the needs of 21st century students, the buildings are handicapped-accessible and boast a glistening gymnasium with seating for 500, a sunny cafetorium with a stage canopied by a Queen's arch, and an airy 3rd floor library with built-in shelves, banks of computers, a reading room and meeting space.

"Our long journey to our new school has come to a remarkable end," said Donna Haymes, Principal of the new Baker School. "All Baker School staff members have done everything possible to ensure a smooth transition for our children into their new technology rich classrooms. Our teachers and students are very fortunate that this latest technology will enhance their educational journey over the next nine months. We want our students to be excited about learning in an atmosphere where technology offers them many innovated educational experiences."

The Baker School is surrounded by lush lawns fed by an underground irrigation system. The property has two brand-new playgrounds, soccer and playing fields and a community meeting room. Teachers are very excited about the new building and its amenities.

Art Teacher William Descilien marvels at his enormous, airy Art Room, which includes ample storage and work space and a kiln for firing clay.

"I've died and gone to heaven," he said.

The Music Room is large and open, with dedicated instrument storage space and two additional practice rooms. And the guidance staff is pleased with the new Guidance Suite that has private offices for meeting with students and parents, as well as a small conference room.

Lorraine Aveni spent decades as a first grade teacher at the Franklin School, a 19th century schoolhouse that closed to make way for the Baker. The Baker will consist of students and staff from the former Franklin and Ashfield Elementary Schools.

Mrs. Aveni said she is excited about the new learning possibilities the Baker School offers.

"It's a beautiful building, the children and the staff are going to enjoy the facilities," she said. "The Franklin children have never had an art or music room, so it's going to be wonderful adapting to this spacious new home. And the technology will really allow us to educate the students for the 21st century."

Students and their parents had looked forward to the new building for quite some time. Carol Lopez, a member of the Baker School Improvement Council, was just as excited about the new school as her sons Nicholas, a 5th grader, and Adam, a kindergartener.

"We couldn't wait for it to open, we've been very anxious to see it," she said. "This new school will have more opportunities to learn, it has great technology and it will help them to compete," Lopez said. "It's very exciting to have a brand new school with all new supplies."

Third grader Colleen Kilroy said she had been looking forward to seeing her new school for some time, and was very pleased by her spacious new classroom, her locker and the overall feel of the school.

"It's so big and pretty," she said.

Green Schools
In 2002, the Brockton Public Schools received a grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative to assist in the design phase of the schools. The MTC and state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have worked together to encourage communities to build energy-efficient schools; and the energy consumption of the buildings will be studied in the future to determine how effective those energy conservation measures are in controlling operational costs in the long term.

The Baker and the George Schools have important internal systems - both heating and cooling - that make them green schools by definition, said Resource Conservation Manager Lewis Symynkywicz.

"These schools are very efficient facilities that employ a cutting-edge system of monitoring and conserving energy," Symynkywicz said. "The HVAC and heating systems have a high level of control which will allow us to save money. The lighting systems have sensors, so when rooms are empty, lights will automatically go off. And there are solar panels on the roof that will collect clean, renewable energy."

The heating and ventilation (HVAC) systems can be monitored by computer from anywhere in the world, so Symynkywicz can increase or decrease air flow and heat into any room of the building by remote. The building's air conditioning system consists of two chillers instead of one giant chiller, so that the entire system doesn't have to be implemented on days when only a little a/c is needed.

All of the classrooms have occupancy sensors that are tied into the HVAC system, so that when no one is in the room and no motion is detected, the level of air flow will automatically reduce, thereby saving energy. Lighting sensors also shut off lights when rooms are not in use, and the very way the school is sited on the property is done to maximize the amount of sunlight and minimize usage of electric power. Motorized skylights are tied into the same technology and harvest as much natural light as possible, Symynkywicz added.

The Baker and George Schools also use green technology to keep the grounds green. Rainwater is collected in an underground cistern and used for irrigation of the surrounding fields and green spaces.

"The Brockton Public Schools has a very progressive history of energy conservation," Symynkywicz said.

Facilities Director George Bezreh, who is responsible for maintaining the buildings, said the latest in energy-efficient light bulbs are being employed to further limit energy consumption. Solar panels are sited on the Baker School roof to collect solar power.

"The solar energy that we capture through the panels on the roof is metered, and we then get a credit back from the utility company for whatever energy we produce. It's a great system, because the students can also monitor the amount of solar energy we are producing and do calculations and research based on our in-school monitoring system," Bezreh said. "In my 20 years of running facilities departments, I have never seen such a sophisticated design; this kind of green technology means the entire building is a lesson in preserving the environment."

Even the cleaning supplies at the Baker are green (although not literally), says Assistant Facilities Director Michael Towne. Custodians will be using non-ammoniated window cleaners and chemical-free floor wax; and even the mops are made of recycled products.

"The Superintendent has said this will be a green school, and we mean for it to be green from the floors to the ceilings," Towne said.

While the students and teachers may not notice behind-the-scenes energy savings, the Baker School's state-of-the-art technology systems are front and center. The building is equipped with the latest advancements in educational technology, said Daniel Vigeant, Director of Technology Services.

"We were fortunate to receive substantial state and federal funding to build a ‘model technology school.' We have designed a true 21st Century classroom using all of the latest technology products and we intend on replicating the Baker School's technology plan over time throughout the district," Vigeant said.

Both schools are packed with the most effective educational technology available, Vigeant said. Just about every classroom in both schools has an interactive whiteboard, a type of virtual chalkboard that allows teachers to instruct students traditionally as well as save written work, add digital images and videos from the worldwide web, and share student work through computer imaging.

"These are more than just glorified chalkboards, they allow teachers to be in front of the classroom while accessing computer data and programs, exploring the web with students, posting notes and drawing diagrams all at the same time," Vigeant said. "Teachers can save work and retrieve it at a later time, and also access and utilize a host of lesson plans designed to work in unison with these boards. It really opens up a new world of possibilities for educators."

The Baker and George Schools also boast handheld student response systems that allow teachers to conduct real-time formative assessments of student knowledge. Through the program, each student has a handheld computer that resembles a TV remote. The teacher asks a question of the class, the students input what they think is the correct answer on their individual device. The responses are automatically sent to the teachers' computer, so that the teacher can tell how well the students understand the material.

"Even when you have 25 hands raised in answer to a question, you never know how many of the children understand. So a teacher can ask a question and then immediately see on the computer how many children have the right answer," said Virginia Lynch, Executive Director of Teaching & Learning, K-5. "This gives teachers an immediate and direct line on how the instruction is going for children and it engages students in the learning, by making them active participants."

The new Baker and George Schools are also completely wireless, so that teachers, students and staff can access the internet from anywhere in the building. Each building has a cutting-edge computer lab and five mobile carts containing 30 laptops each, so that teachers who want to conduct computer lessons can do so in their classrooms when the computer lab is busy. The schools also have state-of-the-art document cameras that scan student work, allowing teachers to project homework, quizzes and in-class work to share with the rest of the class on the whiteboard.

Each classroom will be equipped with an audio amplification system. Through this system, teachers wear wireless microphones that project their voices and lessons through speakers around the classroom, providing much-needed assistance to hearing-impaired students and audio amplification to other students who may be not be hearing certain vowels or consonants. It also enhances the video instruction by bringing content such as Discovery Education to life.

"The Baker and George Schools are models of the best in 21st century education, and of advances in technology and energy conservation. All of these new innovations will enhance classroom learning, but we know from experience that the best education is still good, old fashioned teaching - it is caring, well-trained teachers who are creative and determined; it is strong relationships between school and home; it is dynamic leadership and a commitment to excellence," Superintendent Nembirkow said.