June 15, 2022

Yes, you can return to the classroom, California health officials told local school districts in 2021. Just make sure you follow COVID protocols and maintain six feet of separation between students.

“There went our furniture standards, right out the window,” says Cherie Chenoweth, coordinator of the Facilities Business department that oversees the furniture program for the San Juan Unified School District (SJUSD) in Sacramento, CA. “We had been making the transition to collaborative learning tables or two-person desks, and we had long cafeteria tables that would need to be swapped out, too.”

Cherie called her dealer contact, Katey McLachlan at Campbell Keller, and Katey started calling manufacturers – many of whom were dealing with their own pandemic-related issues. SJUSD wanted 12,000 desks, which would be a tall order even with plenty of advance notice.

They needed the furniture in four weeks.

“We were working with multiple companies but Fleetwood was our star,” Cherie says. “We were in a crisis and they came through for us, way beyond our expectations. They provided nearly 10,000 of the 12,000 desks we wanted and met a very aggressive timeline.”

Robin Slenk was the Fleetwood project coordinator. “Our manufacturing folks were the real heroes here,” Robin says. “They committed to do whatever it would take to fill this order on time. And the SJUSD School Board passed some a resolution so we could move quickly from quote to purchase order.”

End of the story? Not at all.

“This district is always thinking one step ahead,” Katey says. “They knew they were going to modernize their buildings. So instead of just solving for the immediate need, they used the pandemic, and the federal relief funds that came with it, as a jump start.”

Fleetwood has become SJUSD’s preferred provider, and the system has become one of the company’s biggest customers – not just because of the trust that was built during the pandemic, but because Fleetwood offered the products and the flexibility that Cherie was looking for.

“The first thing we did was go back into the classrooms where we’d put the new desks, and give them the storage to match so it didn’t look like so much of a hodge-podge,” says Cherie. “Fleetwood even helped us find the right colors and laminate to match the desks that their competitors had supplied. Some of our older buildings have low windows and Fleetwood was willing to make us lower bookshelves so they wouldn’t block the light.”

And now Cherie, Katey, and other partners are tag-teaming their way through the district, updating furniture and delighting teachers, students – and custodians. “With casters on everything, it’s easy to move the furniture to clean behind and beneath it. The desks don’t have a lip on them so it’s not just a clean aesthetic, it’s easy to clean, period,” Cherie says.

Katey notes that many districts swap out furniture only during the summer, but the SJUSD team has developed a process that allows them to change full sites during the school year with minimal disruption. (They’re also planning to tackle five schools this summer while working toward an upgrade on all 64 school sites.)

Says Robin, “Once you start working with this district, you’re family. We love being included in the planning and strategy discussions, and it’s a great partnership. And Cherie is starting to get questions from other school districts about SJUSD’s modernization model.”