Passion for education may as well be hereditary in Nick Salmon’s family.
“It’s kind of deep in my DNA to be a part of education,” said Salmon, who comes from eight generations involved in the field.
Salmon grew up in the Boston area surrounded by teachers in his mom – who was a teacher and librarian – her sisters and her father. He himself taught for several years after completing his undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture at the University of Cincinnati.
Although he grew up in the Boston area and spent time in New York City, Vermont and Pennsylvania, Salmon wanted to return to the Rockies after a 1987 trip to Yellowstone.
“When my brother and I were napping on the shores of the Madison River on that trip, I knew I would find a way back West and actively pursued teaching in every school of architecture I could find in the Rocky Mountains,” he said.
A teaching job at Montana State University in Bozeman was his ticket. Then in 2001, he moved to Missoula and took an education specialist position at CTA Architects and Engineers.
While teaching, interaction with other professors was beneficial for him and his students, he said.
“I learned so much from their very real-time field mentoring,” Salmon said of his time teaching in Cincinnati.
However, collaboration has not been the norm until more recently, he said.
“My mother’s generation and even my generation of teachers really represent a long history of teachers working alone,” he said.
School-building design perpetuated that, with classrooms arranged like ice cube trays that separated teachers and students from each other, with hallways used only as a means to get from one room to another.
Gone, though, are the days of simply adding on more classrooms to accommodate more students, as more districts look at how to use less space more collaboratively and efficiently, Salmon said.
The trend is for more collaboration and professional learning communities and spaces in which to work together for both educators and students.
That trend is visible in concept drawings for a massive facilities plan undertaken by Missoula County Public Schools, where Salmon said the leadership is not content with business as usual, which he called costly and outdated.
For much of the past 2 1/2 years, most of Salmon’s time at CTA has been dedicated to facilitating community and MCPS-wide planning for Smart Schools 2020, the district’s long-range facilities plan that addresses deferred maintenance, safety, technology and capacity needs.
Salmon has facilitated the planning process in Missoula, as he has done for dozens of other communities from the Arctic Circle to Arizona and from Washington state to Washington, D.C., where he is currently working with Sidwell Friends School.
His Quaker faith is helpful when working with communities, as it has taught him to be reflective, he said.
“It’s very satisfying to be a part of that kind of community effort when the end results reflect that community,” he added.
Many of the issues in MCPS buildings, such as safety, are similar at other schools across the country, said Salmon, who travels more than 100 days a year for work – long enough to read more than 30 books last year, many as audio books in his car.
Salmon spends some of his time traveling to present at conferences, as well, and also works with Learning Environments for Tomorrow, a program at Harvard that teaches architects how to design innovative learning spaces.
The most successful schools Salmon sees on his travels have a common equation.
“It’s always a combination of facilities, programs and people,” he said.
His work is extremely rewarding because of the long-lasting physical changes it leaves in communities where he works, and work to improve MCPS facilities will be no different, Salmon said.
“Ultimately the world is different because of what you do,” he said.