Fielding Nair, the firm hired by Billings School District 2 to help with facilities planning, released its study following the firm’s visit to town earlier this year.
“I was, I might say, almost pleasantly surprised by the results,” said Prakash Nair, the company’s president.
He was referring to the upheaval in the district last month — the termination of Superintendent Keith Beeman and the resignation of board chairwoman Barbara Bryan — and that it didn’t seem to be reflected in the responses Fielding Nair culled from the community.
The SD2 board ad hoc committee met Wednesday morning to hear from Nair and go over the study. In attendance were a handful of trustees, district officials, principals, teachers and community members, including Bryan.
Nair said the overwhelming message from the Billings community, as it was reflected in the surveys and group discussions, was that it wanted SD2 schools to give students real-world experience.
It also showed that parents want Billings schools to prepare students for whatever future they want to pursue — be it a four-year university, trade school or a post-high school job.
The final facilities plan that the district puts together with Fielding Nair needs to reflect those desires, Nair said.
The study recommends that SD2 move to the next phase of the process and set up pilot programs at two or three schools that would model the ideas and changes that Fielding Nair advocates.
The board will consider the proposal and let Fielding Nair know in January whether it wants to pursue the pilot programs.
The Florida-based company specializes in designing “creative learning communities” that are conducive to learning in the 21st century and that make sure that schools reflect the wants and needs of the community, Nair said.
He reminded the group Wednesday that the district can spend its facilities money — SD2 has more than $120 million in deferred maintenance — on propping up outdated, ineffective buildings or it can use that money to change the way schools serve their students, staff members and the community.
Committee member Bruce Swanson questioned the strength of the survey results, given that the samples were very small.
Nair acknowledged the small pool but said, “I thought we had enough to get a pretty good sense of what the community wanted.”
Fielding Nair first visited Billings in September. During that weeklong visit, Fielding Nair representatives met with teachers, small groups of community members and business leaders. The week was capped with a three-hour community brainstorming session.
The report reflects the ideas and comments that came out of that meeting and the smaller gatherings with teachers, students and district staff.
Fielding Nair has worked with companies and school districts worldwide — everyone from Microsoft in Redmond, Wash., to the Ministry of Education in New Zealand.