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DoDEA: Barkley Elementary becomes post’s second 21st Century school

Ft. Campbell Courier
Ft. Campbell, Kentucy | September 14, 2017

The common room at Barkley Elementary School buzzed with excited children, teachers, parents and Department of Defense Education Activity leadership Wednesday during the ribbon cutting ceremony at the new facility.

After the presenting of the colors by the Fort Campbell High School Color Guard, and a performance of the national anthem by Lorenzo Blount, Linda Curtis, DOD principal deputy director and associate director of academics, opened the ceremony by addressing the students in the audience. Every Barkley Elementary School student attended the ceremony.

“It is so exciting to be here at Barkley Elementary School,” Curtis said. “It’s like when you are a first grade student and you are starting your first day of school at a brand new school. This is a brand new school. It is so special.”


Barkley Elementary is the second 21st Century school to be constructed at Fort Campbell. The first, Marshall Elementary School opened in the fall of 2016. DoDEA has opened 14 new schools around the world this year.

“It’s amazing to think that the groundbreaking for this school was just about three and a half years ago and today we are standing here together on that site, which has been transformed from shovels in the ground to this impressive new school with teachers, students, staff and parents in their new home teaching, learning, moving forward as a school community that will continue to reach new successes and achievements in this amazing school,” Curtis said.  Ted Turnipseed, Barkley Elementary principal, said although Barkley and Marshall both take the same approach toward instruction, there are differences between the facilities that make each of them unique.

At Barkley Elementary, a nature theme is prominent throughout the school’s design, because of a former principal’s influence.

Case Devisser, design architect with Woolpert, who worked on the architecture and engineering of the school, said they were able to stay true to the nature theme by picking an appropriate color scheme.

“It all starts with the colors,” Devisser said. “It’s a lot of softer, earth tones. In the information center there are acoustical panels with pictures of wildlife and nature. With the tree motif you can see the nature theme throughout the school.”

The design team started working on the Barkley Elementary project about five years ago. Devisser said it was surreal to walk into the finished building he had spent so many hours imagining. He said he was thrilled to see the children enjoying the facility.

“It was pretty emotional walking in and seeing all of the people and the kids here today,” he said. “It’s exactly how this school was meant to be used. I can’t put words to it, but it’s just really cool.”

During the design process, Devisser said he often tried to get into a childlike mindset.

“One of the things I thought of a lot during this project is how military children get moved around a lot, so this may not be the only elementary school they go to, so I wanted [Barkley Elementary School] to feel welcoming and sheltered,” he said. “A place where [the students] feel like they have something to do with the school. I want them to feel like they have some sort of ownership. I tried to put myself in their shoes in each space and try to see it the way a child would see it.”

This is not the first time Devisser has designed a school, but he said working with DoDEA was an interesting and challenging experience because of their desire to design 21st Century schools.

“Before this school, there wasn’t a whole lot of [those designs] out yet in regard to school design,” he said. “Before [21st Century schools] it was what we call cells and bells. The concept here is to bring a lot more of that together with larger, more open flexible spaces. Things are closer together so that the kids have more of an opportunity to learn and interact with each other.”

Barkley Elementary is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver Certified, 142,049-square foot facility, built to serve about 740 students. The school features neighborhood classrooms with joining hubs. Each classroom has glass paneled dividers the teachers are able to manipulate to create closed in classrooms for small and large group learning.  

Despite the state-of-the-art new facility, Curtis was quick to remind everyone that a building is not the only thing that influences a child’s education. She added that teachers, leadership and community involvement were also factors.

“A building does not determine the quality of a student’s education, however, it can be a facilitating factor in making the education process a more effective and pleasant experience for all,” she said. “Now the fun begins. There will be thousands of students who will walk through these halls that will ultimately impact the future of our world.”

Before moving into the new building this school year, Turnipseed made it his mission to cultivate an identity for the school’s namesake among the teachers and students. He began this mission by visiting Judge Christopher Shea Nickell in Paducah, Kentucky, to learn more about Alben W. Barkley.


Nickell, a historian on Barkley’s life, also attended the ribbon cutting ceremony to teach the students about Barkley.

Barkley was a lawyer and politician from Kentucky who served in both houses of Congress and as the 35th Vice President of the United States 1949-1953. Despite his success, Barkley came from humble beginnings.

“He was born into poverty. He was born in a poor, rural area of Western Kentucky over in Graves County in 1877,” Nickell said. “His parents were tenant farmers. They were hardworking and they instilled that into their son – a strong work ethic. They valued education. They saw to it that after the harvest their son was in school. When he went on to college they couldn’t afford tuition, so the college president agreed to allow him to be a janitor to pay his tuition.”

Barkley was one of the chief architects of the New Deal. He also worked alongside former President Harry S. Truman to desegregate the armed forces and schools.

“Boys and girls, you attend Barkley Elementary School,” Nickell said. “You attend a school where you can be proud of the name your school bears – where everyone is welcome and where everyone is encouraged to achieve their dreams.”

Nickell said Barkley was an advocate for education and would have been pleased to know an elementary school was named in his honor.

“As demonstrated by the impact of [education] on his life, he understood the importance of an education and sought to ensure that all of America’s children had access to early and lifelong learning,” Nickell said. “Barkley realized that the aim of education is not merely the knowledge of facts and theories, but of value, especially the value of public service.”

To close the ceremony, Barkley Elementary fourth and fifth grade students performed “Onward” a choral piece. After the ceremony was complete, the 101st Airborne Division Jazz Band took the stage to perform a few pieces while guests mingled and enjoyed refreshments. Some guests decided to take part in school tours lead by adults and a few students.

Youlanda Washington, community superintendent of DoDEA Schools for the Southeast District, said she enjoyed the tours because she was able to understand what the students liked about the new school. She said the students mostly liked the nature theme of the school and how it was designed just for children. She said they were also passionate about their neighborhoods.

“My favorite thing about [Barkley Elementary] is being able to watch the children and see how engaged they are in learning in their neighborhoods,” Washington said. “They are so proud of their classrooms. I love watching them engage in their environment without fear and with an overjoyed attitude. The energy these children are producing is just outstanding.”

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