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By design: Teacher-designed classrooms promote retention, improve learning

Date: Wednesday, November 2, 2022

"Brooklyn"If teachers could design their own classrooms, what would it look like? Adjustable seating for all? Desks that you can write on? A video game that drills into students the multiplication tables? Maybe even desks with bike pedals to help students wear off extra energy while they learn?

It’s all of the above at BGM Community School District. For a small district, BGM, which encompasses the towns of Brooklyn, Guernsey and Malcom, has big ideas.

BGM’s success is essentially a tale of teacher retention, teacher recruitment and community support. Six years ago they invited teachers to create their own “dream” classrooms. 

The teacher-designed classrooms were the brainchild of Superintendent Brad Hohensee.

Check out photos showing BGM Community School District’s innovative classrooms.

“Basically it’s a way to improve a learning environment for students,” Hohensee said. “Instead of me directing what is good for that classroom, I went to the school board and asked that they allow teachers to design their own rooms. We call them dream classrooms. If a teacher had a dream, what would the ideal classroom look like? About six years ago we started the process.”

Initially, teachers were skeptical about the superintendent’s proposal.

“I offered it to the whole high school staff and only two took me up on the offer,” he said. “They probably didn’t think I was serious because of the cost. Teachers had to justify why they wanted to do it. There was no cap in terms of cost. We then opened it up to the elementary and six teachers took me up on the process.”

"Brooklyn"From there, it gained steam.

“Everyone now has dream classrooms,” Hohensee said. “Every classroom has their own unique furniture.”

Roaming around the Brooklyn building that houses both the elementary and high school totaling about 550 students, classrooms will vary based on the teacher’s vision for how to maximize learning.

Everything was considered, including the lighting throughout the building.

“Our LED lighting is research based,” Hohensee said. “The lights adjust based on what you are attempting to do. There’s energy light, reading light, testing light, general light.”

The lighting has had dramatic effects on the district.

“Scores have gone up, absentee rates have gone down for staff and students,” Hohensee said. “My wife, who used to teach kindergarten here, used to get migraines. She had very few after the lights were installed.”

The dream classrooms have led to great employee satisfaction. And satisfaction translates to higher retention rates.

“This past year at the elementary we had zero teachers leave,” he said. “And we also have a waiting list for people to come in. They have said ‘if you have an opening, let me know.’”

The dream classrooms, however, are but one impressive aspect of the district. The district boasts state-of-the art facilities, from its top-notch auditorium to a gymnasium that can transform from a basketball court to a volleyball court with literally a flip of a switch. Even the cafeterias are updated and give off a cool urban vibe.

“Our facilities are 5A facilities even though we have a 1A population,” Hohensee said.

The “5A facilities” all came down to community support.

"Brooklyn"“Community support is key,” Hohensee said. “Our last bond issue we were looking to remove some temporary classrooms – they weren’t conducive to learning. And the community knew that need. The bond issue had a 78 percent approval rate. That was for six new classrooms and an auditorium. A multi-purpose room and a fitness room for students were also added using SAVE and PPEL funds.”

Word of the big-concept facilities in a little district has gotten around.

“We give a lot of tours of our facilities to other districts,” Hohensee said.

Though all classrooms are now dream classrooms, the last to evolve was because of a holdout, fourth grade teacher Shane Wilson.

“I didn’t see it as important,” he said. “It wasn’t until they told me that they no longer had parts to repair my desks that I agreed to a dream classroom.”

And today?

“I love it,” Wilson said. “I now wonder why I didn’t jump on it much sooner.”