The newly built and revamped Richard Crane Elementary school on Southwest Boulevard in “C” Section, held its ribbon cutting ceremony and grand opening Saturday morning, providing parents and students a tour of the sparkling new school geared towards creating a project based and collaborative learning environment for both students and teachers.
The event hosted by the school’s parent teacher association started around 9:30 a.m. with a pancake breakfast, where around 80 parents, teachers and students lined up to the smell of pancake batter and were also given the opportunity to enter in a school fundraiser raffle.
Breakfast was followed by the ribbon cutting ceremony, where Superintendent Robert Haley, the Crane Family, Principal of Richard Crane, Teresa Ruffoni, Miss Sonoma County, Miss Sonoma County’s Outstanding Teen and other Rohnert Park community members were in attendance.
Mayor Jake Mackenzie also made an appearance and spoke at the ceremony, praising the new facade and amenities of the school, which he said will help foster student and school success and will help to bring the city into the 21st century.
“The future of the City of Rohnert Park is totally tied into the success of the school district, the success of the schools, the success of the teachers and the success of the pupils… It is important and it has been 17 years since we updated our general plan, we are going to see the next phase in the 21st century...,” Mackenzie said.
The Crane Family, including Jennifer, Richard and Cindy Crane were later introduced and said they were excited to see the school reopening after 15 years.
“We were here in 1980 when the school was originally dedicated, which was extremely exciting at the time and sad when it closed in 2002. So this is a pivotal moment for our family to see this reopen and see this beautiful facility and this passionate staff and faculty and support from the community, it means so much to our family,” they said.
Superintendent Haley echoed the Crane family’s thoughts, saying he’ll be glad to see the school serve this section of the community.
“I think it is great to see the school come back and serve the community and seeing the little kids walk to school is just great,” Haley said.
The school, which only took a year to rebuild, has taken on a major cosmetic, interior and exterior transformation and now reflects the school’s focus of project based and collaborative learning with brand new classroom configurations, furniture and design.
New features of the school include outdoor learning areas for each classroom with internet access, seating to inspire a flexible learning environment and an open-air feel with moveable glass walls, according to Ruffoni.
“We are really trying to create a learning environment that meets the needs of the students and it’s actually the same setup as Evergreen Elementary. The current classrooms had no windows, the only light was a small little area by the door and one of the first things that we know is that natural light helps us learn, it engages your brain, it does everything to your body, so we wanted to create windows,” Ruffoni said of the school features. “We now have windows to let lots of natural light in, we also redesigned an odd alcove to make a collaborative space within the classroom, which is all glass.”
In terms of the furniture, Ruffoni said, “Our furniture... has wheels so it is moveable and we have wobble stools for the kids and the chairs have a cut-out and it is meant if you want to flip your chair around, just as all the kids want to do and it gives you a nice way to hold your body. Sitting in an actual chair can be really uncomfortable for all day. So the idea is taking what Google, what Apple and what Starbucks has done to create an environment where it’s not that static desk. The environment is meant to move and change.”
After the ribbon was cut with the aid of Miss Sonoma County, Kristina Schmuhl and Miss Sonoma County’s Outstanding Teen, Emily Wong, various teachers and Ruffoni gave an extensive tour of not only the new school grounds, but also of the new Kindergarten and Transitional Kindergarten wing.
Along with the other four buildings on campus, the Kindergarten wing also houses all new furniture such as the wobble chairs, where the kids on the tour proceeded to clamber onto the bright blue seats, bouncing gleefully while Ruffoni described the new amenities of the wing.
“This area (the Kindergarten area) was designed to have a foyer so if it’s raining, parents can wait in here to pick up their students and we wanted to have an opportunity to have display cases to display their work. Like the collaborative area in our other classrooms we also wanted to provide a collaborative area for our Kindergarten teachers,” Ruffoni said.
Ellen Giunchigliani, a second grade teacher at Richard Crane said even though the year-round school already had its first day of school last week, both teachers and students are still trying to get used to the new classroom set-up of not having traditional desks and being able to choose their own seats.
“It puts the responsibility on the kids to do their work… though it was hard for the kids not to sit where their name tags are. But flexibility is good and they can sit where they learn best,” Giunchigliani said. “The light makes for a good learning environment and they’ve been doing amazing work. It’s also a new way of teaching and I’m a little out of my comfort zone but I am still learning too.”
The tour concluded in the new administration building where the smell of fresh paint still lingered. According to Ruffoni, the atrium that had been previously used as a teacher break space and has now been transformed into the reception area.
The original school was closed in 2002 due to low enrollment and a $2 million deficit, according to an article in The Press Democrat. However, the school was able to be reopened and rebuilt through development fees and the passing of various bonds by voters over the past several years, according to a press release from the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District.
When asked what Ruffoni’s favorite aspect about the new school was, she said if she had to pick one thing, it would be the openness and the new way of collaborative teaching that the new design offers.
“I would say the furniture and the way that it’s going to give us the opportunity to teach differently and then the openness of the classrooms… but the kids are most excited about the new playgrounds, they’ve been asking me about that,” Ruffoni said. “But other kids I’ve talked to are very excited about being the first and creating a community and being the pioneers of the community.”