Woodburn Elementary School Open & bright, for kids who are, too

Newest school in Camas will welcome students this fall




Woodburn Elementary School Principal Jan Strohmaier heads up a staircase of the new school, the last of three built by a bond approved in 2007.

CAMAS — Underneath high ceilings and amid boxes of packed educational wares, the teachers of Woodburn Elementary School leafed through the names of new students — determining their class placements — and discussed the coming school year.

With less than a month to go before classes begin, it’s business as usual for the first crop of teachers at Camas’ newest school. It comes with the added excitement of a state-of-the-art, 70,000-square-foot building. The school, at 2400 N.E. Woodburn Drive, will serve students from kindergarten to the fifth grade.

“For me, it’s an exciting challenge to become part of a new staff,” Kristina Amundson said. The second-grade teacher, who volunteered to come to Woodburn from Prune Hill Elementary, started preparing Monday for the new school year, in a new building — an experience she called thrilling.

It’s an opportunity to start at the ground level and figure out what’s best for the new building, replete with new gadgets and updated safety measures, meant to help kids learn. The first day of class is Sept. 3.

Principal Jan Strohmaier, who’s overseeing the transition into Woodburn Elementary, said the school district’s newest school is the end result of some trial and error. As the final piece of a $113 million bond package voters approved in 2007, the school benefits from being the last of three new elementary schools.

“We were like the third child,” Strohmaier said, referring to the school, “We learned from the first two that were ahead of us.”

The first two: Helen Baller Elementary and Grass Valley Elementary.

Listening to employees

While there’s nothing wrong with those schools, Strohmaier said, the district asked employees at the elementary schools, what they’d like to improve. Their list included additional entrances to alleviate a bottleneck of students in the morning, along with tall windows and skylights to make the school feel more open and bright.

An artist visited the site before construction began and took pictures of the trees on the property. Those were used in the design of the library windows. The district wanted the inside of the building to reflect the environment outside.

One feature recommended by staff was to keep classrooms the same size, instead of having separate reading and resource rooms. Each classroom includes a room divider, so teachers can rearrange the rooms to match their teaching styles.

Expecting a boom

Together, the three new elementary schools are part of a massive overhaul of the district in preparation for an expected enrollment boom.

Last year, the district redrew its boundaries for elementary and middle-school levels, dictating which schools students would attend. The changes were controversial for some parents who said the changes unnecessarily split up existing neighborhoods.

But the district anticipates growth. The district expects 400 new homes to be developed around Woodburn Elementary, at the east end of the school district, over the next several years. Blocks away, construction workers use heavy machinery to move earth where new homes will take shape.

Woodburn Elementary can comfortably accommodate 600 students, but only 450 will attend in its first year.

“We planned it to accommodate growth over time,” said Doreen McKercher, a spokeswoman for the district.

Constructing new elementary schools won’t be the last big decision for the school district and its voters. Sometime in the next three to five years, the district will have to decide whether to build a new high school. The current high school, with 2,200 students, is at capacity.

As for Woodburn Elementary School, educators say the school will be something special.

“Personally, I think the building is very calming,” Strohmaier said. “I think the light and the color scheme and the surroundings — there’s just something about it when you walk in.”

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com