Santa Rita College designed for new teaching techniques

By Christian Betancourt

Students at Santa Rita Middle School will benefit from a school designed with new ways of teaching in mind. The school will introduce a new method of teaching where teachers will share students and classrooms.

“Teachers can move from class to class without having this wall or barrier between them,” said Josh Curtis, director of SRMS. “It goes back to the ‘everything means everything’ philosophy. (Teachers) don’t just have one class of kids on their list. Each student in the building becomes one of their children.

No classroom is assigned to a particular educator. Instead, they work in teacher pods and go to separate classrooms by content area, allowing full use of facilities 100% of the time.

“Normally you use 80-85% of your building throughout the day,” Curtis said. “We don’t need to have so many classrooms because now all the classrooms are used at all times of the day.”

Curtis will lead the new school for sixth, seventh and eighth graders in Liberty Hill. He began his career at Liberty Hill as a middle school vice principal seven years ago before taking the helm and becoming principal.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “We will probably open with 800 students. I think it will be an awesome facility, and it will be great for student learning. I’m excited to come in here and help the Santa Rita community learn, grow, and be more successful than it already is.

The school will grow with the district, and Curtis suspects its enrollment will surpass Liberty Hill Middle School.

“Initially we will be relatively comparable in size, then in two years we will probably have 300 more students than them,” he said.

The expansion of an additional wing to the school was approved at last week’s board meeting.

“In December they start the expansion,” Curtis said.

Santa Rita College will offer various sports to students.

“We have soccer, volleyball, basketball, soccer, tennis, cross country and track and field,” Curtis said.

A staff of 70 will take care of teaching and administration of the building.

“I had about 50 percent of the staff come with me from the middleman, and then the rest we hired from outside the district,” Curtis said.

LHISD has hired Sledge Engineering as the Owner’s Representative to work as an intermediary between the construction crews and the District to ensure the work proceeds smoothly and the construction deadlines are met as scheduled. Program Manager Casey Sledge serves as the on-the-ground person for the project.

“It was going really well and we were ahead of schedule,” Sledge said. “COVID wasn’t so bad a year ago. It wasn’t until we approached this summer that supplies started to become an issue. Routine building items became hard to come by. It started to slow down day by day and it started to grow, then in the summer it became a problem.

The contractors had staffing issues resulting in a delay in construction, he said.

“Each individual company was starting to lose work crews,” Sledge said. “It’s become a struggle. That’s been the problem until today. If we had been working full throttle, we’d probably be further along. Nevertheless, we’re going to prepare for the kids to be there on Thursday. They’re working seven days a week for nearly three months now.

The work was carried out by more than 150 people working concurrently each day to complete construction of the 150,000 square foot building. Sledge said that during the shortage, the workforce was cut in half.

“We had 60 or 70 over the summer,” he said. ” It hurts. Each individual team worked longer days, seven-day weeks, and odd hours. It was really stressful.

The construction of the school will continue in the absence of the students; however, Sledge said no inconvenience would be present for students who will have a fully functional school to attend on the first day of school.

“We have compromises to make as we move, but it feels good when the kids arrive,” he said. “The classroom wing is at the west end of the building. We started there and built it that way. The only construction still in progress is the finishing touches in the sports area.