Don Tyson School of Innovation

Picture everything that comes to mind when you hear “public school.” Then, press “delete.” Replace it with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redefi­ne what public education can be, envisioning a curriculum model that does not currently exist. Where are we?

We are at the Don Tyson School of Innovation where Springdale, Arkansas’ school district leadership boldly imagined a public conversion charter school that would be home for “career education”—a place where students could actively experience a variety of fields of interest in an accelerated, blended, and flexible environment. One that embraced community partners in every sector—technical, trade, small business, colleges, and universities— leading to higher education, or job offers in local industries.

Kelly Boortz is the current principal of Don Tyson School of Innovation (DTSOI). According to Kelly the school’s mission is “creating an environment where students can imagine the impossible and realize they can accomplish anything. We support them every step of the way.” Their vision and mantra is Advanced, Accelerated, College, Industry. As a public conversion charter school, it is not zoned for a particular student population, so students come from all districts in the Northwest Arkansas area and are admitted in the order in which they apply, not on test scores or demographics and there is no additional cost to attend. Public conversion charter status means that classes can be configured the way the district chooses, advancing students at a rapid pace. High school diplomas are earned along with credentials from career and technical programs. Alternatively, those who are college bound can take advanced placement and college courses. STEM related clubs offer opportunities to compete in areas such as robotics, E-sports, or AAA sanctioned sports. Students can also sign up for intramural sports at other district schools that have teams.

When it came to the architecture and design of the school, WDD was hired and quickly became a trusted advisor. “We couldn’t just open a catalog—we had to start with a partner who understood our vision and goals,” said Kelly. Lauren Booth is an Associate at WDD and led the interior design team. She was charged with designing the space to reflect the curriculum. Because the school was redefining and refining the academic programs at the same time WWD was in design development, it couldn’t be a linear exercise. “The innovative curriculum was a whole new thing,” said Lauren.
“With few exceptions, there were no walls to separate classrooms. How do you set up furniture in one big space and make it conducive to learning? Areas had to be flexible and agile for meaningful interface between students and teachers. We began to look at the classrooms less as a setting for transferring information, and more as inspiring human interaction. The furniture had to support that philosophy.” Nate Martin is the Design Architect for the project. “What was unique was how comprehensive the open plan was—every possible space in the building is leveraged for teaching—you won’t see dedicated corridors with endless banks of lockers. Instead, there is free flowing learning space 360 degrees around the central courtyard. These students have incredible freedom and autonomy to self-discover.”

Our insights got us in the game, but we were awarded the project on the strength of our team and our colleagues at ImageWorks.” Kelly concurs. “Focusing on plans, studying every space, I feel like the team at WDD, Steelcase and ImageWorks all trusted and respected each other. Values aligned. That gave me peace of mind.”

Today, if you visit DTSOI you might see drones flying through the hallways, informing mapping surveys. Or an agriculture class using technology to create an app on what setting grows the best produce. Then, bringing that produce to the onsite culinary institute, that might be being filmed by a crew of aspiring audiovisual consultants. Education in action.
According to Lauren, ImageWorks and Steelcase really changed how the district looks at furniture. “It’s not a commodity. It’s an investment in truly integrated interiors that support exceptional learning environments.” Rhonda adds, “Our success as an organization is entirely dependent on our client and architectural firm’s satisfaction. We were thrilled to be part of such a tremendous benchmark for our children’s future.”
Phase Two of Don Tyson School of Innovation opened in the fall of 2020 with a total enrollment of over 2000 students. Kelly Boortz could not be prouder. “To be here, walk through the zones and be a witness to the energy the students enjoy in this flexible learning model instead of sitting behind desks, makes me happy. It supports all the students, no matter how they learn. And if we need to make adjustments tomorrow, we can. Easily. That kind of confidence in our space is priceless.”

Don Tyson School of Innovation - gallery