Learning happens everywhere at North Creek High School

Principal Eric McDowell’s goal for 2019 is to see every North Creek High School student across the graduation stage.

It will be the first graduating class of the new high school, which opened its doors to students for the first time last week.

“Every student grows; every student graduates,” McDowell said.

He aims to run the “best high school in America.”

He sat down with the Reporter the Friday before school was set to open. He and his staff were still busy finalizing schedules; students and parents poured into the main building that day for the Back to School Fair.

The new high school, home to the Jaguars, alleviates overcrowding district-wide. And it’s been a long time coming.

The striking 61-acre campus is the fourth comprehensive high school within the Northshore School District. It is the first new comprehensive high school to be built in the district since Woodinville High School opened in 1983.

“Kids are already excited to go back to school,” McDowell said. “But they’re really excited to go to a brand new, modern school. You can see it on their faces.”

In all, including all the furnishing, the green school cost $130 million. The school was paid for by a $177.5 million bond that passed by 64.72 percent in 2014; this bond also helped complete the final phase of Woodinville High.

The school welcomed freshmen Sept. 6 and sophomores and juniors on Sept. 7 for the first day of school.

Since the new school required some shifting of the district’s boundaries, district leaders felt it was unfair to move incoming seniors into the new high school, so for the first year North Creek won’t house any seniors, McDowell said.

FROM DIRT AND MUD

“It’s a crazy thing opening a new high school,” he said. “I’ve been here since it was dirt and mud.”

McDowell, who previously worked in the Bellevue School District for 21 years, has been the planning principal of the new school for the last two years.

It cost $95 million to construct the new school, which was completed fall 2016.

Throughout the campus, there are wooden beams or benches, reclaimed when onsite trees were cut down during construction.

The school, built to house 1,600 students, touts its green design and integrated technology.

Throughout the school, students can find interpretive boards, organized by four major themes, which indicate sustainable features and how the building and site function as a critical education tool.

Sustainable features include all-LED lighting, geothermal heating and cooling, solar power, stormwater retention and recycled, recyclable and reclaimed materials.

The cafeteria kitchen also composts.

The buildings, there are three of them on campus, were designed with massive windows and angled ceilings to let in as much natural light as possible.

After the campus was constructed, next came furnishing it with desks, chairs, numerous screens, finding a mascot, deciding school colors, creating and ordering swag, hiring teachers and building a climate and culture.

“We are building that from scratch,” McDowell said. “We started with nothing.”

The school employs about 100 staff members and more than 70 teachers from 18 different schools within the district, McDowell said. The goal will be to “create a family of teachers from a group of strangers.”

McDowell met with a task force of then-future North Creek students to create the mascot and decide on things like the school’s colors, which are purple and silver.

The three feeder middle schools are Skyview, Leota and Canyon Park. The current batch of students — there are about 1,300 of them — came partly from Bothell and Woodinville high schools.

Surrounding the school are many new homes. McDowell estimates that 70-75 percent of the student population is within walking distance to the new school.

There are about 32 students in each class.

YEARS IN THE MAKING

Like many area school districts, the Northshore School District is crowded.

The district is growing by an elementary school a year, McDowell said.

The short-term answer to that problem would have been to build another elementary school, Deputy Superintendent Carolyn O’Keeffe said. But the district was looking for a long-term solution.

Between 2009 and 2011 the district began the process of addressing growth.

In 2012, the district realized it would need to shift boundaries and build a new high school to accommodate the growing district.

“We didn’t just design this because we needed a new high school,” said Ryan Fujiwara, executive director of support services.

Change was on the horizon. State-mandated full-day kindergarten was coming. It was time to start preparing to make the shift to having grades K-5 in elementary schools, moving sixth graders to middle school and moving ninth graders to high schools.

“That’s where we were in a bind because we didn’t have the space to do that,” O’Keeffe said.

These changes finally went into effect throughout the district this year, just in time with the opening of North Creek.

After the bond passed in 2014, it came down to designing the new school. The district brought in industry leaders and university officials to better tie instructional teaching to something more relatable to industry. The goal was to create a space that was itself a learning tool.

LEARNING HAPPENS EVERYWHERE

The hallways are wide and classrooms can open out into them with walls that fold away and allow the learning space to spill outward.

“The learning happens everywhere,” O’Keeffe said.

Referred to as “collaboration cubes,” these small glass rooms dot the hallways and allow students to work in groups.

Students and teachers can write on the class walls, a feature found in many of the classrooms. Many of the cupboards and desks are made with writable surfaces.

The two-story, glass-walled library also spills out into the hallway, dominating the east end of Building One, which houses the administrative offices, a clinic and classrooms.

The gym is large and bright, with a 14-foot LED screen on each of the four walls. The screens will be used as multipurpose scoreboards and during assembly presentations.

The school has wifi throughout its campus so student can hook up to the Internet wherever they are. There are also charging stations throughout the school.

Even the large wetland area out front allows for a living lab for biology students.

North Creek High School is located at 3613 191st Place SE Bothell 98012.

John William Howard contributed to this report.

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