Hutto Independent School District (ISD) in Hutto, Texas works toward inspiring excellence by creating world-class problem solvers and 21st century learners. One of the fastest-growing school districts just outside of Austin, over the last decade, Hutto ISD student enrollment has increased from 1,000 in one K-12 school to more than 7,000 students at 10 elementary, middle and high schools. Enrollment continues to grow by nearly 300 students each year.
“As the city of Austin expands, so does the suburb of Hutto,” explained Todd Robison, Director of Communications and Community Relations for Hutto ISD. “Because of this rapid growth, it became necessary to add a sixth elementary school to our district for the 2016/2017 school year.”
As development plans were underway for the new Howard Norman Elementary School (HNES), Hutto ISD staff was also working diligently on a multi-year Project Based Learning (PBL) plan. The goal of the plan is to give students the ability to gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time toinvestigate and respond to an authentic,engaging and complex question, problem or challenge.
“The classroom environment in the new school needed to be conducive to open communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking,” remembered Brandy Baker, Assistant Superintendent of School Support for Hutto ISD. “We knew that could not be done if students were sitting in rows of desks all day. We sought to redesign our classrooms to allow us to create our ‘portrait of a graduate’ – or the student we want to walk out of our doors after high school.”
“One of the mind shifts we had while designing the school is that learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom – it happens everywhere,” continued Baker. “So we needed to redesign our schools to allow for more movement. We began our search for furniture to help create this organic learning environment for our students.”
“Environment is extremely important in the learning process,” added Ed Ramos, Deputy Superintendent, Hutto ISD. “We had to make sure the furniture was very inviting, kid-friendly, and very easy to move around in the classroom.”
The furniture for HNES had to be flexible, reconfigurable and mobile to meet the students’ needs. Additionally, it had to be available in multiple sizes to accommodate all elementary students, and it had to be visually appealing and complementary as continuity throughout the school was important.
“We learned about Paragon furniture at an education trade show,” remembered Robison. “After further research, meetings and comparison with competitive products, we chose Paragon to outfit our new elementary school from top to bottom.”
With that, the Hutto ISD team began outfitting HNES with thousands of Paragon furniture products for the classrooms, common areas, main office, media center and more. “Basically, if you pick up the school and shake it, everything that would fall out is Paragon,” said Baker.
“The customer service at Paragon was amazing throughout the entire process,” said Baker. “The Paragon team was very responsive to our requests and needs, especially as it pertained to customizing the furniture.” All of the Paragon chairs and tables were ordered in four different sizes to accommodate students in every grade. And all the desks were customized to have only two front casters. “This allows our students to pick up a desk and ‘wheelbarrow’ it across the room or out into the hallway to fit the needs of the subject or project. Additionally, all the teacher desks are mobile so they can be moved around the room or into another room by the teacher,” explained Baker.
Paragon products used in the classrooms and offices include adjustable height KOI Student Desks, Crossfit Flip Desks, teacher podiums and an Intuitive Teacher Desk. All the classrooms are equipped with a Paragon Activity Table and Mobile File Pedastal. The new library contains Paragon soft seating, which is configurable to blend into the environment, along with benches, activity and puzzle tables, and storage units.
Once the furniture was installed, NHES teachers also received professional development training on how to utilize the furniture and support the district’s PBL initiative. “It was just as important for us to invest in the human side of things so our staff could learn new ways to use the furniture to transform the learning experience,” said Baker.
NHES opened to 616 students in August 2016.
“Through our research and training, we are well aware that physical activity is linked to higher academic performance, better health and better behavior,” said Baker. “With the Paragon furniture, we already see this happening first-hand at HNES. Simple class activities that we couldn’t do before are now possible. Over time, we fully expect to see a direct correlation between increased movement and improved academic performance.”
She added that because of the furniture, teachers have commented that the students are more on task. “The kids love moving the furniture. They can pick up their own desks and move them without it being a distraction for others. This allows them to assume leadership in the room, even in grades as young as kindergarten. At the same time, by moving the furniture, teachers can leverage the space they have to maximize learning.”
According to Rebecca Bales, 4th Grade Math and Science Teacher at HNES, “The way that I can move the desks and fit them together is changing my teaching. At the same time, my students can move their furniture and be connected in a matter of seconds without my help.”
“We do not have assigned desks — instead, kids walk in and choose anywhere in the room they want to sit,” added Gabrielle Sweetland-Garza, 2nd Grade Teacher at HNES. “They can work in pairs or in groups or individually.”
“Every piece of Paragon furniture is flexible and can be moved and reconfigured,” said Baker. “The furniture all matches and looks beautiful even though it’s enormously functional. Tables with whiteboard tops can be flipped up and used for group discussion in a matter of seconds. Desks can go from sitting to standing heights with the push of a lever.”
Plans are already underway for the construction of another Hutto ISD elementary school, which is scheduled to open in 2020. “We will use Paragon furniture for this school as well,” said Robison. “We are also redesigning four existing schools next year and are incorporating Paragon into these expansions. It’s exciting to see the changes that are happening at Hutto ISD and the role that the Paragon furniture has to make this possible.”
Youtube Video: Hutto Independent School District Case Study