In October 2018, Dr. Brian Woods of Northside ISD was recognized as the Superintendent of the Year by the Texas Association of School Boards. At the K12 Facilities Forum, we were excited to welcome the accomplished leader, who is currently overseeing an $850 million bond program for Texas’ fourth-largest district.

To offer facilities leaders a superintendent’s perspective of the greatest challenges and opportunities in today’s education landscape, Dr. Woods mined lessons learned from both his 26-year career in education and the ambitious new bond program...

The Future of K-12 Learning Spaces

Northside ISD saw substantial growth over the past 30 years, which meant continuous construction to keep up with enrollment. However, now that growth has slowed down, the district is prioritizing maintenance. To fund these renovations, Northside ISD passed the largest bond program in their history in May 2018.  

One huge aspect of the new bond is a growing desire for more flexible, reconfigurable learning spaces. They’re currently exploring a campus-wide redesign of their libraries and added a line item for modular furniture across the district.

“With flexible furniture, we don’t have to necessarily renovate the entire library but can make better use of the space for all schools, including the older ones,” Dr. Woods said. “Bolted stacks just no longer work for today’s digital learners.”

Bolstering Security District-Wide

With the recent rash of high-profile school shootings, Northside ISD is also heavily focused on heightening security in all of its schools.

Schermafbeelding 2019-04-22 om 16.49.38
Superintendent of the Year 2018

“We think of safety in three ways: people, procedures, and hardening our schools from a facilities-design standpoint,” Dr. Woods shared.

On the “people side,” every middle school and high school is staffed with police officers. Because there’s not enough staffing for all 79 elementary schools, Northside ISD added a ballistic security lobby to every elementary school.

While it was an expensive project, especially for the older schools, the district is also exploring simpler measures to enhance security. “We are exploring every avenue. It can be as simple as looking at old door hardware, and making sure the teacher can lock the door without going into the corridor,” Dr. Woods said. “We’re in the process of improving safety without tremendous cost.”

Beyond the cost factor, balancing the need for top-notch security with an inviting, open design has also been a continuous work-in-progress.

“We want students to feel like they’re in a school, not a penitentiary. Creating physically safe spaces that feel open and modern is a definite challenge. The core mission of the building is to educate, so we’re really trying to honor that,” he said.

Competition from Charter Schools

One aspect that has been particularly challenging in terms of facilities planning has been the explosion in the charter school market, shared Dr. Woods.

“Charter school seats in our county have increased 180% in the last 5 years, while the K-12 population has increased by less than 5%. We're essentially running dual systems of public schools now,” he shared.

"We're essentially running dual systems of public schools now” 

Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that charter schools don’t have to announce where they’re going to build ahead of time. “If you haven't yet experienced this in your community, I would have serious conversations with those who have, because what you think you know about long-range facilities planning and what the demographers tell you gets absolutely flipped on its head,” Dr. Woods said.

Another significant challenge is equity, considering the district is home to both brand-new schools and buildings that date back to the ‘50s.

“Our oldest schools contain the kids that are most disadvantaged, due to geography. The vast majority of the new bond is going to correct those issues,” said Dr. Woods. “It’s been a real challenge to maintain and renovate older buildings so that those students and staff have access to the same kinds of options as brand new schools.”


Managing Uncertainty

With the pace of technology and change moving faster than ever, there’s a lot that can happen within a typical five-year (or longer) construction timeline. When it comes to the budget, Dr. Woods shared his concern for all the elements that can go haywire, from natural disasters to general inflation.

To combat these risks, Northside ISD strives to partner with general contractors, architects, and other consultants “early and often” to get everyone on the same page regarding the design, the budget and the ideal finished product.

“As the owner, it’s a definite balancing act. We have the final say and need to be strong leaders; sometimes this means saying, ‘You’re not doing this right.’ At the same time, we also need to have a solid, cooperative relationship for a coordinated result,” Dr. Woods said.

“I don't think the general public has a sense or general appreciation for the work that you do to keep kids and teachers safe and comfortable"

Essentially, this means working well with others and understanding challenges from their point of view. For example, Dr. Woods shared that Texas recently encountered an unprecedented ten weeks of rain, which threw a wrench into multiple projects. “This is an opportunity for us to be understanding of these issues and to solidify a cooperative, long-term relationship with our contractors,” he said.

Northside ISD is also impacted by tight labor shortage on all sides, from construction to maintenance, which is causing massive inflation in costs. To help alleviate this issue, the district actually created a magnet school that teaches high schoolers these in-demand construction and trades skills.

Appreciation for Facilities

Dr. Woods closed his talk by thanking school facilities leaders for the often “thankless” work they do.

“I don't think the general public has a sense or general appreciation for the work that you do to keep kids and teachers safe and comfortable. Whether you’re in a fast-growth district striving to fund and build new classrooms, or you’re on the other end of the spectrum trying to keep buildings up to date, we owe you a debt of gratitude.”

For more on the challenges and opportunities facing school facilities leaders, join us at the 2019 K12 Facilities Forum, taking place November 17-19 in San Diego.

Hannah Chenoweth

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Hannah Chenoweth is a writer for influence group. Passionate about collaborating with thought leaders in real estate, design, construction & facilities management.

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