District planning to spend $400k on new furniture

HARLINGEN – The teachers have spoken.

Veronica Kortan, administrator for organizational development, spoke Tuesday about the feedback received from teachers after a furniture expo in early January. The expo had featured classroom furniture presented by eight vendors. The desks had innovative new shapes, the sweeping curves and rounded corners. Teachers at the expo relayed what they liked best.

During the Tuesday meeting of the Transforming Teaching and Learning Committee, a picture on a screen showed a desk with a shallow curve, reflecting preferences shared by teachers.

“That’s the shape they like,” Kortan said at the meeting at the school district’s administration building. The Teaching and Learning Committee is made up of school board members Gerry Fleuriet, Dr. Bobby Muniz and Greg Powers.

“The curve feels very flexible, and it should promote collaboration,” Kortan said. “It promotes a team environment. We’re in a modernization mode.”

Kortan spoke with great exuberance about the district entering a new era. That era includes the purchase of new furniture that would be more accommodating to new technology. Teachers are expected to receive Mac Air computers and they’ll be able to project information onto an Apple TV for the class to view. Classes will have iPads students can use for some assignments. Those and any other digital devices can also project onto the screen.

The district plans to spend $400,000 of TRE funds for the purchase of the furniture. TRE funds are additional dollars collected as a result of the recent tax increase. Current plans are to furnish the fourth and fifth-grade classrooms in all 17 of the district’s elementary schools next year. More grade levels will be furnished in the following years.

A mock classroom had been set up with samples of the furniture that could be purchased not only this year but in the following years. Committee members and others attending the meeting flooded into the room. Brightly-colored desks with pleasing gentle curves on each side were placed together for collaborative learning as well as teacher’s desks with computers.

The colorful student desks seemed to draw people’s attention.

“This is for a flexible teaching space,” Kortan said. She was referring to the way the desks can be pulled apart for individual learning and placed back together in a different arrangement.

She said the furniture and new technology would help implement the four Cs: Creativity, Collaboration, Communication and Critical Thinking Skills. The district has emphasized the four Cs as an integral part of its Strategic Plan.

Beatrice Cruz, fifth-grade teacher at Zavala Elementary, was excited about the new furniture.

“The idea of modernizing the classroom, we’ve come a long way,” Cruz said. “Harlingen CISD is moving forward.”

Lori Romero, administrator for elementary education, also liked what she saw.

“This furniture is focused on student-centered learning,” Romero said. “The furniture we have is teacher centered.”

She was referring to the traditional rectangular desks in neat rows where students face the teacher at the front. This design is apparently being phased out.

The next step now is to go out for bids. Feedback from the teachers will be used to provide the specifications, said Kimberly Anderson, senior buyer for the district’s purchasing department. She said bid proposals would be sent to about 70 vendors later this month.

The new configuration is important for learning in the 21st-Century, said Nolan Perez, school board president.

“I commend the staff involved in creating a system by which our teachers and students have a voice in the modernization of our classrooms,” Perez said.