HUNTERSVILLE – The drop-off car lane at Grand Oak Elementary moved smoothly as parents brought their children to school for the first week of classes.
There was no waiting, long lines or congested traffic. It was a night-and-day difference to what parents experienced bringing their children to school at Torrence Creek Elementary in years past, when the line would snake through the parking lot and block traffic on the main road.
Grand Oak is one of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ newest buildings, and it will have about 605 students in kindergarten though fifth grade for its first year. Built with a capacity for 800 students, it has room for growth.
Most of its students came from the heavily overcrowded Torrence Creek, which had about 1,200 students, half of which were educated in mobile units.
A main staircase divides the classroom hallway at Grand Oak in two levels with kindergarten and first grade on the first floor and the other grades on the second. Classrooms on the bottom floor are slightly larger than those upstairs and include bathrooms.
Each classroom is equipped with a projector, Apple TV and 10 iPads for student use.
Grand Oak PTA President Marissa Gilbert was formerly the PTA president at Torrence Creek. She remembers her son’s classroom having 27 students and one teacher crammed in a mobile unit.
“Any time we went into a classroom for an event or anything, it was wall to wall people because the trailer is about half the size of this room, half,” she said sitting in a classroom at Grand Oak. “That’s all they had. That’s all the space those fourth-graders had. For his classmates to come into this, after being in the trailers is just, it’s awesome. It’s just completely awesome.”
Gilbert’s son will attend Lake Norman Charter this year, and her daughter is a second-grader at Grand Oak.
As a new school, administration and staff have worked on establishing Grand Oak’s vision, defined in three words: collaborate, innovate and achieve.
A collaborative environment includes working with students and parents as well as among the school staff, Principal Raymond Giovanelli said. Innovatively, Grand Oak will be a school where there will be exploration in new ways of teaching and learning that move away from the traditional model.
“Our hope is that because we do those two things, we’re going to create a culture of achievement,” he said. “Kids will be more engaged. More learning is going to be happening.”
Being part of building the tradition is something fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Kershaw missed out on when Torrence Creek opened. She joined it the second year it was open and taught in a mobile unit for seven years.
“I missed that team-building. I came in, and I was new,” she recalled. “It’s nice to come here and be at the ground level and help them out and establish that community and culture we want to build here.”