Introducing Ronald E. McNair Middle School, DeKalb County’s First Future-Ready Public School

Ronald E. McNair’s 21st Century Learning Environment Fosters Student Engagement

We are proud to announce the opening of a recently completed middle school replacement facility for DeKalb County School District (DCSD). On August 5, Ronald E. McNair Middle School opened its brand-new doors to sixth through eighth-grade students for the 2019-20 school year.

The first of its kind in DeKalb County, this project represents a significant shift in the educational program of Georgia’s third-largest school district. Its design reflects DCSD’s strategic plan to develop Future Ready schools that engage its students. The concept is a fundamental change from a traditional teacher-centric environment to one designed for dynamic, personalized learning strategies focused around the student.

“This is one of the most innovative programs in the state, specifically designed to meet the needs of the McNair Middle School community and the district. DeKalb County School District is planting the seeds for all students to be career-ready, and I believe many other metro Atlanta schools will soon follow suit.”

Melissa Cantrell, CDH Partners President and Principal in Charge of the project

Our education team based the 1,200-student school design around the user experience. Unlike traditional schools, in which students remain seated in rows of desks and chairs facing their teacher, McNair’s middle schoolers will have the space (physically and conceptually) to engage their social brain and work together to solve real-world problems. In the new environment, teachers adapt conventional interactions with their pupils and classroom furniture to become facilitators for student-centered learning.

At McNair, the school building is the foundation of the student experience. We integrated shared areas throughout so that students can experience a full, well-rounded daily education with spaces to focus on individual study, collaborative group work, and hands-on projects. These communal spots become a tool to engage students and extend learning beyond the four walls of the classroom.

“Our administration, teachers and staff are excited for the opportunity to engage students more in their new space. As educators, our wish is to provide a safe environment where students develop a love for learning. The 21st-century education model prioritizes how students learn best and incorporates their needs for today, as well as their needs as part of the future workforce. We are all looking forward to seeing how they respond when they experience it.”

McNair Vice Principal Dr. Cathy Dorsey

Future-ready schools are characteristically collaborative, flexible and welcoming. They use synergic, creative environments to stimulate student learning. Using this as the basis for our design, we included adjustable spaces and furniture, intentional use of color, large windows and a courtyard. The new Learning Commons exemplifies all of these elements: open collaboration can occur on the amphitheater stairs, which leads to large main circulation area surrounded by bright murals and garage-style doors.

For more information about this project, explore our portfolio.


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