For more than two hours Tuesday night, Billings residents listened to, talked about and questioned ideas on improving area schools.
Fielding Nair, a Florida-based company that specializes in designing “creative learning communities,” met with the public in the Mansfield Health Education Center at St. Vincent Healthcare and led the discussion.
“We’re trying to gather information of what the community wants our schools to look like for future generations,” said Barbara Bryan, chairwoman of the School District 2 board. “The big picture is really what we’re looking at.”
The group — nearly 200 — filled most of the auditorium. In attendance were district officials, trustees, principals, teachers, parents and community leaders, including Mayor Tom Hanel.
Much of the discussion focuses on creating schools conducive to learning in the 21st century and making sure schools reflect the wants and needs of the community.
Prakash Nair, the company’s president, told the crowd that the district has to spend money on maintenance. It can either fix what already exists or it can use money to improve schools for the future.
Fielding Nair has worked with companies and school districts worldwide — everyone from Microsoft Corp. in Redmond, Wash. to the Ministry of Education in New Zealand.
The schools highlighted Tuesday night showed bright-colored classrooms with large windows, common areas with open spaces and teaching environments that drew teachers and students together.
“As a parent, I’d love to see my kid in a school like that,” said Kristin Lundgren.
But, she said, considering the district’s projected budget shortfalls in the coming years and the community’s aversion to bonds and mill levies, starting a project like this would be daunting.
“It takes a lot of trust and a lot of teamwork,” she said. “If we had that, we could address this. And other projects.”
The emphasis Fielding Nair placed on meeting the individual needs of students was appealing to parent Julie Morris.
“Learning has to be individualized if it’s going to be successful,” she said.
The Fielding Nair representatives have been meeting with teachers, small groups of community members and business leaders most of the week in an effort to map out some of those ideas on learning methods and space.
During the meeting, Nair led a group discussion, answered questions and then broke the audience down into small groups where people brainstormed ideas of what needs they wanted their schools to serve.
“Our promise,” he said, “we will listen to you.”
The Fielding Nair representatives over the next couple of months will take the feedback they’ve gotten from the district and the community and use it to create their plan for the district.