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Creating Culturally Responsive Learning Environments

Facilitator: Erin Jones

Panelists: Tim McClure, Andre Benito Mountain, Steve Murakami, Deb O’Riley, John Wheatley

1.25 LU

Equity Panel Discussion

Saturday, October 28, 2017 @ 10:30 am


Learners are tasked to become responsible global citizens and adaptable to constant change. How do learning environments become the stage for each learner to reach their highest possible level of achievement and prepare for their future?

The answer to this question is a moving target influenced by both the status quo and the need to stay relevant, challenged by the cultures that surround each learning environment. These cultures are shaped by awareness, local and national expectations and policies, governance structures, and diverse individual and community needs.

Through the lenses of those who work in a variety of education spaces - Georgia, South Australia, Texas, Alberta, and Washington state - we will discuss how to move from status quo to building education spaces in response to the individual needs of learners, increasing ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic diversity, all within the very complex systems of education.

Learning Objectives: 

  1. Understand what it means to create equitable learning environments.
  2. Understand the role of the physical learning environments when defining equity and culture in our schools.
  3. Challenge our perspectives and processes to intentionally define the student and community culture.
  4. Examine ways to support the achievement of equity in schools through the design expression of the space.


Erin Jones, Independent Education and Systems Consultant - Lacey, Washington

Erin Jones has been involved in education for the past 24 years. She has taught in a variety of environments, from predominantly African American to predominantly Caucasian to some of the most diverse communities in the nation. Erin received an award as the Most Innovative Foreign Language Teacher in 2007, while working at Stewart Middle School in Tacoma and was the Washington State Milken Educator of the Year in 2008 while teaching at Rogers High School in Spokane. She received recognition at the White House in March of 2013 as a "Champion of Change." After serving as a classroom teacher and instructional coach, Erin worked as an executive for two State Superintendents. Erin left OSPI 5 years ago to work in college-access at the school district level. She left her job to run as a candidate for State Superintendent and was the first Black woman to run for any state office in Washington state, a race she lost by a mere 1%. Erin has two children in college, one who works full-time and plays rugby, and a husband, James, who is a teacher in North Thurston School District.


Tim McClure, Assistant Superintendent for Facilities, Northwest Independent School District - Ft. Worth, Texas

Tim McClure’s experience in construction and architecture spans for more than twenty-five years. Tim's background in architecture and construction, combined with his detailed experience providing long range planning and budgeting for school districts, allows him to serve in a leadership role with an unmatched capacity. Tim’s strengths continually prove to be a valuable asset throughout all aspects of the industry including visioning, project facilitation, professional presentations, office and team management, programming, schematic design, design development, graphic design, construction drawings and contract administration. 

Currently Tim is responsible for the non-instructional operations of the district. The responsibilities include maintenance services, custodial services, safety and security, indoor air quality, asbestos management, and construction. Tim also provides future planning for the growth of Northwest ISD, including site purchases and programming. Tim’s strengths shine bright when he is leading efforts toward long range facility planning. Tim has successfully led many efforts toward bond planning by understanding aging facilities, current needs, growth patterns, district’s vision and ultimately the fiscal burden of the taxpayer. He recently led the visioning and planning process towards the successful passage of a $339 million dollar bond election and he constantly strives to make a difference in learning environments that will positively impact students. 

Andre Benito Mountain, Principal of Marbut Traditional Theme School, DeKalb County School District - Lithonia, Georgia

Andre Benito Mountain is an educator and writer whose work has been featured in national and international education publications. His article Helping Teachers Navigate the Path of Accountability was featured in Education Week. His article The Complexity of Equity was the cover article for the Winter 2016 edition of Washington Principal Magazine. His article Jazzing Up History Class was featured on the cover of Canada’s TEACH Magazine in 2016. His work with jazz and social studies instruction was featured in the documentary Taking Notes: Jazz and the American Story. He is the author of The Brilliance Beneath: The Power of Perspective in Urban Schools. He is the co-author of Woodstock to Hip-Hop: Convergent Lifelines and the Teaching Journey and the co-editor of Democratic Responses in an Era of Standardization.

He was named the 2011 Outstanding Student in Education Leadership for Augusta State University. He was previously the K-12 Social Studies Coordinator for the Richmond County School System in Augusta, GA. He is currently the principal of Marbut Traditional Theme School in the DeKalb County School District. Mr. Mountain received a BA in History from Georgia Southern University and an MA in Elementary Education from Wesleyan College. He also holds an Ed.S. in Educational Administration from Augusta University. He is currently a doctoral student in Georgia Southern University’s Curriculum Studies program.

Additional panelist: Tierney Mountain, active 4th grade student in Georgia and daughter of proud father Andre Benito Mountain.

Steve Murakami, Senior Program Manager for OAC Services and former COO of Tacoma Public School - Bellevue, Washington

As a respected leader and strategic thinker in the K12 design and construction field, Steve brings passion, experience and leadership to the creation of any learning environment. After working many years as an architect for an education design firm, Steve served as Director of Planning and Construction and then Chief Operating Officer for Tacoma Public Schools. There he oversaw the development and delivery of all capital projects through a $500 million-dollar bond, played an integral role in the long-range capital planning and management of district properties, and provided innovative leadership with district transportation, nutrition services and facilities maintenance. He is currently serving as a Senior Project Manager for OAC and owner’s representative for Lake Washington School District. 

Whether he is coming to project as a contractor, designer, planner or owner’s representative, Steve always focused on creative designs and approaches to building innovative learning spaces.

Deb O’Riley, Director of New Schools, Department for Education and Child Development - South Australia

Deb O’Riley is Director, New Schools, one of the most significant projects for the Department for Education and Child Development, South Australia. Deb is an enthusiastic and passionate educator with a real commitment to improving outcomes for all learners. She has held teaching and leadership roles in a variety of schools and education settings in South Australia.  

More recently her focus has been to understand elements critical to the successful delivery of contemporary learning environments. Deb believes that learning environments need to encourage and promote multiple modalities of learning, supporting individual, small and large group work.  As Project Director for the New Schools, Deb has an exciting opportunity to lead a team to create inclusive learning environments where physical, social and pedagogical elements continuously evolve, and teaching and learning is enacted with energy and imagination.

John Wheatley, Former Director of Facility Planning, Rocky View Schools - Alberta, Canada

John Wheatley, Architect, has been an A4LE member since 1995 and is completing six years as the Canadian Director on the A4LE International Board. John worked in the private sector for 25 years primarily in learning environment design and policy development and 15 years in the public sector in school jurisdiction facility planning departments. He has recently completed a ten-year term as Director of Facilities Planning at Rocky View Schools (Alberta) where he supported a 21C initiative to transform curriculum and pedagogy with purpose-built new facilities for over 9000 students and numerous strategic renovations.


John acted as A4LE stakeholder representative with the Alberta government on the prototypical school designs and the standardization of the school capacity guidelines. He has completed four P3 projects through the Alberta Schools Alternative Procurement program and a fifth P3 school that shifted to a design-build project delivery after the termination of the ASAP program.