Suzanne McGowen has been a band teacher at Ozark Middle School for 13 years. While she is always excited for the start of school, this year she was a bit more eager to get back into her classroom and welcome students, thanks to summer building renovations.

“I remember the first day I walked into the office at the end of July. I noticed and felt an immediate difference. The lighting is beautiful and easy on the eyes. It was an uplifting moment,” McGowen said. “The flexible learning spaces are ready for students with seating and whiteboards, which makes differentiating instruction so much easier.”

The summer renovations were part of the first phase of the Ozark School District’s long-range plan, known as “Operation Renovate and Innovate.” The updates included the completion of the new roof, new paint in both gymnasiums, new flooring in the practice gym, new paint and carpet in the library, new flooring and fixtures in bathrooms, transitioning to LED lighting, and classrooms in the southwest pod updated from floor to ceiling. The halls received a fresh coat of paint and unused lockers were removed for additional flex learning space. Outside, drainage issues near the library were fixed.

Maintenance Foreman Mark Faught said thanks to a busy grounds, maintenance and custodial staff, the majority of those projects — all except re-shingling the roof, and installing flooring in the bathrooms, auxiliary gym and library — were completed in-house at a cost of $115,000, not including the roof.  

“By keeping most of it in-house, we saved the district a lot of money, which allows us to better serve our students,” Faught said. 

“All departments — grounds, custodians, maintenance — came together as an amazing team to achieve more than what we even hoped for,” said Dr. Curtis Chesick, Assistant Superintendent of Operations.

In July, the school district purchased a commercial property at 1600 W. Jackson Street, commonly known as the Fasco building, which will serve as an extension of the main Ozark High School campus and a new location of the district offices. 

Once renovated, the building will be used to offer practical educational opportunities to high school students while freeing up space in other buildings. To help determine the specifics of those opportunities, administrators established eight areas of focus with committees actively meeting to investigate possible program and class structure:

  • Research (soliciting feedback for the vision of the facility)
  • Core (courses required for graduation)  
  • Non-core (elective courses) 
  • Human Services
  • Health Services
  • Education and Training
  • Law, Public Safety, Corrections and Security
  • Arts, Audio/Video Technology and Communications

The research committee has been soliciting feedback from students, staff and the community to establish the vision of this facility. Community members can share their feedback through a survey found at http://www.ozarktigers.org/renovation.

“We are asking, how can we approach education differently and shift our educational philosophy to better embrace the talents of our students,” said Ozark Superintendent Chris Bauman. “Our goal is to improve the high school experience for all students rather than simply expanding our existing operations.”

While it may be geared for high school students, the innovation center will impact every student in the district, starting with the earliest learners at Tiger Paw Early Childhood Center.

“When District Office moves to the innovation center, that allows us to double in size,” Tiger Paw Director Laura Eakins said. “Currently, we’re having to double up some classrooms. We’re running out of space. To meet the needs of our community, we’ve got to open up some more classrooms for students. It’s an opportunity to really grow and expand on those early learners.”

Part of that expansion started this school year, as one preschool class as well as the physical therapy and occupational therapy room moved into the north end of the current District Office. Plus, Tiger Paw added an additional preschool class, allowing the District to serve 20 more kids this school year. 

“I think our community is really wanting a place for their children. Our waiting lists are overflowing,” said Elizabeth Dawson, Tiger Paw assistant director. “We have people calling every day to try to get a spot in early childhood, and we don’t have it at this point. So to be able to grow is exciting.”

The school district narrowed the search to three architectural firms to design the building. A firm will be chosen the end of September. Follow progress of Operation Renovate & Innovate at http://www.ozarktigers.org/renovation

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