Creative Learning, Creative Design: Vicksburg Warren School District hosts Academy of Innovation ribbon-cutting

Published 4:39 pm Thursday, September 2, 2021

Vicksburg Warren School District hosted an official grand opening ceremony on Wednesday for the state-of-the-art Academy of Innovation building, and in the words of Mayor George Flaggs Jr., the school and its mission are “phenomenal.”

Located at 1650A Rosa A. Temple Drive, the AOI building is the culmination of years of planning and hard work by VWSD. The school serves seventh- and eighth-graders pursuing a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) pathway.

The STEAM Academy is an accelerated program of study for junior high students. It provides project-based learning opportunities for those students who exhibit exceptional abilities in academics. Students will have the opportunity to participate in learning processes that incorporate thinking, exploration, and projects while integrating college and career state standards in a STEAM-based environment.

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The new Academy of Innovation building features innovative designs such as glass walls that slide back and create more open spaces for students, exposed plumbing, electrical and ductwork so students can learn about those processes and an abundance of nontraditional learning environments.

“It’s a direct response to the creative learning that’s going on inside this building,” architect Gary Bailey of Dale Bailey Architects, said. “These kids and their teachers are all about collaboration and working together to solve problems, and the building is a solution that respects that.”

Bailey was the mastermind behind the design of the school, which is laid out based on the “Golden Rectangle.” He has designed more than 40 schools across Mississippi and said the AOI was his most ambitious project to date.

“Forty-two years I’ve been designing schools, and this is the culmination of a career,” Bailey said. “This is what architects go to school to do. These kids are the reason this building is the way it is because they’re allowed to dream, to have vision and a passion for learning, and teachers that will teach them the way learning truly happens.”

Seventh-grader Kira Nelton said she encourages all students to consider attending the AOI, and hopes it will help further her career dreams of entering the fashion world.

“I want to go into fashion marketing and be a creative director,” Nelton said. “(The AOI) provides creative arts and math, which helps because I’m going to have to be measuring fabrics, as well as art, because fashion is a form of art.”

Nelton said her favorite class so far is robotics, which incorporates a variety of practical skills and creative problem-solving techniques.

AOI Principal Dr. Jason McKellar, who has been at the school for seven years and oversaw instruction at its previous location at 1315 Grove St., said his students are grateful to be in a modern learning environment.

“The thing that excites me the most is the opportunity this building will give to students,” McKellar said. “Here, you’ll see a math teacher and science teacher working hand-in-hand, or an English teacher and a history teacher side-by-side; a lot of co-teaching and plenty of room for students to spread out and work on a project, or if we need to group them up we can do that.”

The AOI is a promise for continued innovation in VWSD, according to Superintendent Chad Shealy.

Shealy said the opportunity to showcase the new building to the community was “amazing.”

“When you get an opportunity to retool education the way you wish it would have been the whole time, that was the impetus of the beginning of the Academy of Innovation,” Shealy said. “The teachers and Jason McKellar did an amazing job transforming the inside, and it’s great to have a building that matches the things that have been going on at the AOI.”

School Board President Jim Sturgis Jr. echoed Shealy’s statements and thanked the taxpayers of Warren County for passing the bond issue that helped make the school a reality.

“Warren County, I’d like to thank you for your investment to allow students to become leaders in the community,” he said.

Flaggs was the last to speak before students and community leaders cut the ribbon and officially opened the AOI to the public.

For him, the school’s significance was twofold: in addition to providing an educational environment like no other in the state, the location of the building also holds a special meaning.

“We need to put the historical meaning of this site in perspective. You need to know the meaning of this site, and the culture of this site,” Flaggs said. “Mr. Shealy, you and the board put the best school on the best site, because you put it on the soil of Rosa A. Temple High School. That school in 1959 created the opportunity for being the first Black accredited high school in the state of Mississippi.

“In this building… is a program that so many of us wanted. It’s the beginning of a home and an educational opportunity that many children in Mississippi wouldn’t get. … You are phenomenal.”