Future-ready design is first of its kind in DeKalb

“This is a game changer.”

These five words prefaced a short stint of silence on Wednesday, September 4, 2019, at approximately 10 a.m. They fell upon the ears of community leaders, architects, project managers and DeKalb County School District (DCSD) administrators, all of whom recognized the words’ gravity and truth for the Ronald E. McNair Middle School community.

DCSD administrators cut ribbon

Photo: Vanecia Thompson

Ronald E. McNair Middle School – located at 2190 Wallingford Drive in Decatur – hosted an official DCSD ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 4. The ceremony celebrates the successful opening of the district’s first future-ready school, featuring a bright, open environment, collaborative classrooms, cutting-edge technology, communal learning spaces and a brand new turf football field.

“I was here as assistant principal seven years ago when they spoke of a new building. This is a game changer,” said Principal Ronald E. Mitchell. “I live in this community. I’ve always lived in this community. I’ve always believed in, ‘Change the culture, change the game.’ This building will certainly change the culture. The people who come into this building come into it with a new attitude because it’s theirs. It’s something they’ve longed for. It’s something that has been needed.”

Principal Mitchell thanked the DCSD administration and DeKalb County Board of Education for their support and follow-through in creating the new building.

“McNair is not the McNair that it used to be,” Principal Mitchell said.

The 1,200-seat school is the first of its kind in DCSD. Classrooms and hallways feature group learning spaces, large windows, mobile furniture, intentional use of color, an outdoor courtyard, an indoor amphitheater, garage-style doors, murals and user-friendly, state-of-the-art workspaces for teachers.

Ground broke for the new school – which cost approximately $42.5 million – in December 2017, with the school opening its doors to students and staff in August 2019. District personnel – as well as partners from Evergreen Construction, CDH Partners, and AECOM – were adding the final touches to the 21st-century building when students arrived on August 5, 2019, for the first day of school.

“This is a momentous occasion,” said Superintendent/CEO Dr. R. Stephen Green. “We’re not only celebrating the opening of a school, but also a commitment to deep teaching and learning. This building is designed for collaboration, for 21st-century learning, for inquiring minds to discover, meet, greet, and engage. This building is designed to foster the leaders of tomorrow.”

Dr. Green also mentioned the vision of Dr. Ronald E. McNair, who is known for setting high expectations, sound principles, courage, professionalism, and perseverance.

“We stand on his shoulders,” said Dr. Green. “This edifice is in recognition of what he accomplished and what his dedication was to science and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).”

According to a release from the company, CDH’s design experts integrated shared areas throughout so that students can experience a full, well-rounded daily education with spaces to focus on individual study, collaborative group work, and hands-on projects. These communal spots become a tool to engage students and extend learning beyond the four walls of the classroom.

CDH Partners President and Principal in Charge of the project, said, “This is one of the most innovative programs in the state, specifically designed to meet the needs of the McNair Middle School community and the district. We are so grateful to be a part of it. DeKalb County School District is leading the way in modern education, all in the name of student success. They are planting the seeds for all students to be career ready, and I believe many other metro Atlanta schools will soon follow suit.”

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was hosted by students Spencer Branch and Kori Putmon, who served as master and mistress of ceremony, respectively. In addition to words from Principal Mitchell and Dr. Green, attendees also heard from DeKalb County Board of Education Chairman, Dr. Michael Erwin.

collaborative work space

Photo: Vanecia Thompson

“If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend that you tour this beautiful building, and note how it differs from a traditional school setting. You’ll quickly discover that it differs in not just a few ways, but in almost every way possible,” said Dr. Erwin. “When students enter the new Ronald E. McNair Middle School, they are entering an education environment never seen before. The campus resembles some of the finest education institutions in the country, resembling college campuses more than traditional K-12 schools. This new building is a Future Ready school, meticulously designed to inspire critical, creative thinking in our students at a ripe age.”

Regional Superintendent, Dr. Bernetta Jones, also addressed guests, while Gsukari Clark delivered the morning’s inspiration. Guests were also treated to two performances by the McNair Middle School chorus, headed by Celina Crawford. Student Ka’miah Ashley lead the event’s recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Dr. Green reaffirmed the commitment to invest in the DCSD community at large through sound financial practices, as well as public-private partnerships such as special local-option sales tax (ESPLOST) initiatives. He said the Ronald E. McNair Middle School tear-down and rebuild is just one of many steps in bettering the lives of DeKalb County students.

“I pledge that our district will continue to invest in our nearly 100,000 students, and that this edifice stands as a symbol of our commitment to career, college, and military-readiness,” said Dr. Green. “I hope that it symbolizes revitalization and uplift for our community.”