On the eve of Aug. 30, an anticipatory silence surrounded Vera Risdon Middle School.
Inside the new school located in Newcastle, staff and administrators hustled to prepare for the beginning of the school year. Principal Craig Cooper called their hustle a “fun chaos.”
Risdon Middle School has been highly anticipated for Renton School District, especially since the opening of the school was postponed last year due to construction delays. The $46 million project is now open and houses an estimated 800 Timberwolves — that’s the new mascot.
Cooper is captaining this new ship while closely clutching the school’s mission, which reads, “Fostering curious, capable, courageous, compassionate learners.”
“In our discussions in developing a vision statement, we specifically talked about the word ‘fostering’ as far as what we wanted to bring out of the kids,” said Cooper. “We had characteristics in mind we wanted to draw out of our students, wanted to cultivate and grow in their time here at Risdon. We didn’t want to choose a word that was about us jamming something into them… but rather they already have these characteristics, so we want to focus on how we draw them out. Foster was a conscious choice to have in the start of our vision.”
The school is sectioned off into three pockets that are named after habitats of timberwolves, including the forest hall for sixth graders, mountain hall for seventh graders, and river hall for eighth graders.
The 119,000-square-foot building has flexible classroom space the staff is planning on utilizing for the inclusion of special education students.
“We want to try to provide as much access and support to (special education) kids to be with their general education peers as much as possible,” Cooper said. “One benefit of our facility is that we have multiple double classrooms where we’re going to try some integration programs.”
Cooper added that he’s seen similar integration programs at McKnight, where he previously served as assistant principal and principal. Student performance data from McKnight had positive impact on all the students.
“(The data) would blend to the point that you wouldn’t know who was who. You wouldn’t know who qualified as a special education student and struggled because they ended up doing just as well as the other kids in class.”
Risdon Middle School is also piloting a new program called student supply pack. The school charges families with a set fee and provides all the students with the necessary supplies for the school year. Families that rely on free or reduced lunches pay on a sliding scale.
“As a parent, I understand the frustration going all over town and ordering off of Amazon. It’s a headache. The idea is that I can pay a reasonable fee and we can get the material, and save some time. It’s hopefully going to work out.
Risdon Middle School was named after longtime RSD educator Vera Risdon, who said in an email she was excited to see the school finally open.
“I was there mid-August to help with orientation. The building is just amazing. So many special kid-friendly features and the staff has done a wonderful job of preparing for the inaugural wolfpack,” she said. “It should be a wonderful and memorable year for all.”