By Tyler Leeds

The Bulletin

New, beautiful schools tend to look a lot alike. There’s the entrance with lots of windows, which invite not only light but also help enhance security. Classrooms are centered around open areas, where students can collaborate and move around, while Smart Boards and projectors have replaced chalk and dusty erasers.

The new Warm Springs K-8 Academy, which will open this fall and host about 675 students from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, has all these features and many more, embracing scores of contemporary ideas in school design. But the school, which is replacing a campus of aging buildings and trailers abutting U.S. Highway 26, stands apart, and not only for its location perched above the Deschutes River.

At the entrance, a small planter is decorated by tiles painted by students from the reservation. In the high-ceilinged hallway, a round canvas displaying an eagle — the school’s mascot — hangs, while the tiles on the floor are arranged in a pattern meant to invoke the aesthetic traditions of the tribes. Display cases will soon hold artifacts from the reservation’s museum.

“I have a feeling of pride about this buildings,” said Laurie Danzuka, a Warm Springs parent who advised the Jefferson County School District as the school was designed and built. “My kids are always excited to come to school, but now other kids will be, too. I feel this way, but it’s hard not to ask why it took so long to get here? This is what the kids deserve. Now they’ll have what they deserve.”

Danzuka’s daughter, Kathleen, 7, thinks the school could use more monkey bars, but despite that, she said she was excited, noting her favorite parts of the school are “the rooms, tables, walls and cubbies.” Her sister, Kathryce, 11, said the new school, which the pair toured on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s ribbon cutting, “is awesome.”

Laurie Danzuka and daughters Kathleen, 7, and Kathryce, 11, look at the lockers inside a locker room while on a tour of the new Warm Springs K-8 Academy.

Joe Kline / The Bulletin

The $21.4 million school, funded evenly by the school district and the reservation, will be a big change for students, who have grown accustomed to crossing a street to move between classrooms, the cafeteria and gym. While having the school all under one roof will save about an hour of walking each week per student, an even bigger change, and one that will be felt in Madras, is the addition of middle schoolers. The previous school, Warm Springs Elementary, ended after fifth grade, with older students taking a long, early-morning bus ride to Jefferson County Middle School in Madras.

Glenna DeSouza, whose title will soon transition from planning principal to principal, said the new middle schoolers have mostly been worried about having access to the same sports, though, she noted, all of the programs offered at JCMS, including football, will be offered in Warm Springs.

While the sports won’t change, the school’s approach to academics will have a new structure. One new feature is that non-elective teachers, instead of covering every subject, will focus exclusively on either math and science or language arts and social studies.

“The theory behind it is that teachers learn the content better and become experts in those areas,” DeSouza said.

There will also be a focus on blended learning, which balances traditional instruction with self-paced digital lessons. Computers will be spread across the school, but the blended learning effort will be based in the media lab, where an entire class of students will be able to work on different subjects online.

A classroom in the grades 3-5 wing of the new Warm Springs K-8 Academy.

Joe Kline / The Bulletin

“It’s a way to differentiate students and to meet their specific needs,” said Brian Gallagher, the school’s technology specialist. “Teachers will be able to collect data on their students which they can use to guide their instruction.”

One of the digital programs the school has purchased is Spatial-Temporal Math, which teaches students math concepts without the use of any words.

“All the students will see is a penguin moving across the screen that they can use to solve puzzles,” Gallagher said. “It starts with very basic concepts and builds from there, and it gathers data on where students are struggling.”

The school will also be more thoroughly integrated into tribal services. Jefferson County Superintendent Rick Molitor described the level of cooperation between the district and tribe as “unheard of,” citing a training exercise the staff received from the tribal government on conscious discipline, a method of resolving conflict.

“It’s great because the same language will be used in the community and within the schools, which creates more cohesion,” Molitor said.

The school will also host a nurse from the tribe’s health system, who can help students with immunizations or issues, saving parents a trip to the health clinic. Danzuka said this integration is helping to shift a perception that the tribe’s school belongs to the district toward seeing it as the tribe’s resource. A big piece of this, Danzuka said, is the school’s community room, which can be used for free by community members and is located at the front of the school.

“There is no other space here like this here,” Danzuka said, adding requests have already come in to use the room.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160,