First school planner recognized in nation will have you pumped about a job you know nothing about
After over 20 years, Saralee Morrissey is still excited to go to work.
As the Volusia County School District’s director of planning, Morrissey is basically a paid visionary; dreaming up big ideas and long-term plans for the county's current and future schools. And in order to create a school that's a benefit to both the students and the community, a lot of questions must be answered.
How can we make sure students have access to outdoor learning while also keeping them safe?
Metal roof, or shingles?
Though many of the issues they face are technical, it's clear within the first few minutes of meeting Morrissey that school planning is a job that can only be done with attention to detail and a whole lot of heart.
"Schools are so much more than just a land use," Morrissey said. "You can't just plop them down anywhere. Part of it is recognizing how communities are going to grow. It's not just about their location, it's about how they fit in — sorry if I ramble. I just get really excited talking about this stuff."
Her love for her job was a huge factor in her recent selection into the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners. An honor typically only given to city planners, Morrissey is the first school planner in the nation to earn this distinction.
"School districts haven't always had a planner," she said. "The work is only 20 to 25 years old. I like to believe the schools I've been a part of contribute to healthy, viable neighborhoods, sustainable communities and the wellbeing of our children."
Involved with the design and placement of Pathways Elementary School, Hinson Middle School, Ormond Beach Middle School and Seabreeze High School, Morrissey is aware of how much of a school's — and community's — success rides on what kind of areas they're placed in.
For instance, an elementary school does best in the middle of a neighborhood because it encourages families to walk and makes it easy for parents to have lunch with their kids. A high school on the other hand, does better in the middle of the city, where it's close to everything, and residents can easily access it for events.
"Our high school kids are no longer sitting in class for seven hours a day," she said. "They're learning through different experiences and in all kinds of ways. We want to ensure our students can be available for other opportunities. A school that's disconnected can struggle."
Morrissey said the issues she thinks about when planning a school are much different than when she first started a career. When she designed Pathways Elementary, security wasn't as big of a concern, and more open, campus-style structures were encouraged.
"A lot of things are designed differently now," she said. "It's a sign of the times. But my job ... I feel very lucky."