State has kudos for new Morristown High wing

Morris Supt. Mackey Pendergrast, left, with Joshua Koen, who started last week as chief innovation officer for the state education department. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Audience at Morris School District board meeting in Morristown High's new learning center. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Audience at Morris School District board meeting in Morristown High’s new learning center. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

By Kevin Coughlin

The state education department’s new chief innovation officer toured the new wing at Morristown High School on Monday and pronounced it … innovative.

Joshua Koen, top right, chief innovation officer for the state Department of Education, addresses Morris School District board. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Joshua Koen, top right, chief innovation officer for the state Department of Education, addresses Morris School District board. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“It’s flexible. It changes based on the needs of a particular day or lesson or activity,” marveled Joshua Koen, holding up the wing as an example worth emulating.

School designs, by and large, have advanced little over the last century, he said. “Our field is one of the most traditional that you will find.”

Koen spoke in a 75-seat “learning center” that is a key feature of the  $13 million, 24,000-square-foot expansion, which opened this month–under budget, according to school officials –after just 15 months of construction.

Work pods enable small groups to link their district-issued Chromebooks to flat screens to collaborate on projects.  A retractable wall opens the room for large gatherings, such as Monday’s school board meeting.

The three-floor wing includes spacious classrooms with wall-mounted projectors, and an advanced design- and manufacturing center with digital machines that can print or sculpt large 3-D objects for theatrical props and other uses.

Everything has gone pretty smoothly in the facility since classes started on Sept. 6, 2016, said Principal Mark Manning.

“The kids are very flattered by what we’ve been able to provide for them,” he said.

Slideshow: A tour of the new MHS wing,  just before it opened

Principal Mark Manning and Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Sept. 2, 2016.
The new MHS wing, under construction in April 2016.  Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Sept. 2, 2016.
The new MHS wing, on the right.  Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Sept. 2, 2016.
Digital projectors like this one are mounted in new classrooms at MHS.  Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Sept. 2, 2016.
New design center at MHS. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Sept. 2, 2016.
The new design center at MHS can create wooden designs like this. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Sept. 2, 2016.
Spanish teacher Griselda Valdeon in new wing at MHS. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Sept. 2, 2016
Kelly Murphy, MHS '09, will be teaching Spanish in a new classroom. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Sept. 2, 2016.
Marietta Scorsune, MHS '98, prepares a message board in her new Spanish classroom.  Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Sept. 2, 2016.
The view from the new wing to the old.  Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Sept. 2, 2016.
The view from Morristown High to the new wing. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Home bleaches across the field are closed this season because of a safety issue.  Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Sept. 2, 2016.
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The Morris School District was able to finance the expansion without seeking any additional taxes from residents of Morristown and Morris Township. Former Superintendent Thomas Ficarra, an architect of that fiscal planning, attended Monday’s tour with his daughter, a teacher in the district who is about to give birth.  Ficarra now serves as interim superintendent in Hamilton Township.
Morris Supt. Mackey Pendergrast, left, chats with Joshua Koen, who started last week as chief innovation officer for the state education department. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morris Supt. Mackey Pendergrast, left, chats with Joshua Koen, who started last week as chief innovation officer for the state education department. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

In a troubled world, the learning center will provide a refuge, fostering “human relationships [and] mutual admiration,” said Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast.

The design center is meant to give students high-tech vocational skills.

Pendergrast said the expansion continues the progressive vision of the late Stephen B. Wiley, a Morristown High alumnus who led the battle to create a regional district back in the 1970s. The superintendent quoted Wiley, who died last year:

“Our schools teach the ABC’s with distinction, but young people in Morristown High and the grade schools also learn the D’s, E’s and F’s. By association and experience, they learn about democracy and diversity, about equal opportunity and ethnic strengths, about freedom and fraternity, about the whole alphabet of America.”

 

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