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'Lead, Contribute, Respect, Play, Courage, Learn'

Cheney Free Press of Cheney, Washington

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Cheney School District expands to eight school buildings with opening of Phil Snowdon Elementary

Ask Phil Snowdon Elementary School principal Shawna Fraser or any of her staff members what is the most common phrase used by people viewing the new school for the first time, and to a person that answer is just three words.

"It's so beautiful," Fraser said while conducting another tour Aug. 14.

Cheney's newest and eighth school building opens its doors for real when students arrive for classes Sept. 4. At just over $13.35 million in construction costs alone, not to mention outfitting it with new furniture, cafeteria and other equipment, computers, books and more, Snowdon Elementary represents the last new building constructed as a result of a $79 million bond passed by voters in 2010.

That bond money went to funding the district's two new middle schools, Cheney and Westwood, but it helped the district to receive state matching money, which went to building Snowdon, with construction beginning July 2012.

The district hired Fraser last year after teaching and serving as principal assistant at Cooper Elementary in Spokane District 81. Her role was twofold: provide administrative support for Windsor and Sunset elementary schools while also working on the planning and outfitting of Snowdon.

The latter involved work in everything from planning for and hiring of staff, picking out furniture to selecting a mascot — Cougars edged Bobcats. The former helped Fraser get introduced not only to future staff members, but also future students at Snowdon.

"It was a really great decision the district made to hire someone in advance," Fraser said. "It was a gift to have that year."

Snowdon Elementary will open with around 400 students attending, about 275 transferring from Windsor and 125 from Sunset. Most of Snowdon's teachers are transfers from other district schools, with about half coming from Windsor, Fraser said. As classes were collapsed at Windsor and Sunset, teachers were given options to transfer, with seniority being the deciding factor among multiple applicants.

"By the time you get everybody in you have about 35 certificated and classified staff," Fraser said. Snowdon's classes breakdown by grade level to one preschool, three each kindergar-ten, first and second grades, two third grades, one third/fourth combina-tion, and two each fourth and fifth grades. There will be three resource teachers, school counselor Kim Lefler hired from Deer Park and secretary Holly Rasmussen coming over from Cheney High.

Physically, Snowdon Elementary has many of the same features that were incorporated into the two middle schools. Each classroom is equipped with "smartboards," as is the library, and projection systems, energy saving lighting control systems and 3-4 computers. There is also a separate computer lab with 28 PCs and two mobile PC sets.

There are four learning "pods," two in each wing. The pods are quiet areas where students can read or which teachers can use for more focused instruction.

The preschool and kindergarten rooms each have their own restroom facilities, and their playground equipment is located in a central courtyard. There are two resource rooms in each wing and two workrooms per wing, enabling teachers to stay nearer their classes rather than always having to go to the central workroom or teacher's lounge in the administration area.

There are two empty classrooms in the third-fifth grade wing to accommodate growth, as well as additional playground equipment and basketball courts outside for the older students. The gym has a similar floor, sound and projection systems as the middle schools, as well as features that help deaden noise.

There is a project room that comes equipped with refrigerator, dishwasher, oven as well as classroom equipment where classes can come and essentially "make a mess" doing science. The room will also double as a community meeting room and the location for Cheney Parks and Recreation's after school ECHO program.

The multipurpose room features a stage for produc tions that also doubles as a music room, and a cafeteria capable of serving 150 students over three different lunch periods. That in itself is unique to Snowdon, Fraser said, since many grade schools have the students eat in their home rooms.

"It give students more social time with other students they might not have classes with," Fraser said. "And it will allow teachers to work with them on social interaction skills."

One of Fraser's tasks was to produced a mission statement and motto for the school, words she said would "live" in the building as the intent was to have them engraved in the wood beams above the entry way and in the cafeteria. In doing so, she thought about the building's namesake, former superintendent the late Dr. Phil Snowdon, and the characteristics of the man many people remember: solid character, leadership, caring for all and the importance of play.

Fraser read through many of the letters written to the district about him. She spoke with his wife, Susie Snowdon, and other family members to gain their insights.

The result were six words now engraved over the building's en-tryway: Lead, Contribute, Respect, Play, Courage, Learn. Those and discussions with staff lead to the school's mission statement, also engraved into the beams of the multipurpose room, "Pride, Excellence, Respect in everything we do."

While people look at Phil Snowdon Elementary and see a beautiful building, Fraser also sees it in conjunction with those words and the opportunity it provides those who come through its doors.

"I'm just really excited and proud we are starting a community that will embody who he was," she said. "We will develop a community around him, teaching character."

John McCallum can be reached at

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Original Publication Date: January 2, 2014

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