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School board ends 2012 with overview of student safety

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By JULIE BALL HAMBRICK
Special to The Trimble Banner

Along with end of year updates, the Trimble County Schools Board of Education heard the latest on school safety precautions against intruders on campus.

Just days following the fatal school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Assistant Superintendent Jessica Wilcoxson discussed the district’s reaction with the school board.

Local law enforcement was on hand at all Trimble schools the Monday following the Newtown tragedies. Uniformed officers returned to both elementary schools every morning last week “to reassure both parents and students with a visible presence,” Wilcoxson said.

“We’ve had lots of calls (from parents), but all seem satisfied with our current level of security,” said Milton Elementary School Principal Sharon James. “Most also thanked us for how we’re making sure our students are safe, and that made all of us feel pretty good.”

“We’ve received lots of concerned calls from parents, as surely schools all over the country have experienced,” said Trimble County High School Principal Rachael Adams.

Under current district policy, all schools must hold lockdown drills at least once a year. The high school has “code red” lock down much more frequently, usually due to periodic sweeps with canine drug-detection units. The middle school typically exceeds one “code red” annually, while both elementary schools have a single lockdown drill during the school year.

Alliant Integrators Inc., which provided the district’s existing security and surveillance equipment, will soon return to assess current camera systems. And, according to Wilcoxson, discussions are under way to install door buzzer systems at the entrance of each school. This would allow all doors to remain locked during school days.

Alliant may provide the district an estimate as early as the first of the year.

Wilcoxson added that emergency manuals were redistributed to all principals. “They’ve reviewed them for all conceivable scenarios,” she said – from tornado and earthquake to “violent intruder.”

Board member Joey Martin asked if middle and high school students should receive copies of the emergency manuals, and inquired about professional development for teachers and staff on emergency preparedness.

Wilcoxson said she anticipates information on this training topic will become more prevalent in the wake of events in Connecticut.

School board member Scott Burrows said he wants it “understood that the district’s safety concerns are ongoing and not a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ to recent events.

“We began serious security talks early in 2012,” Burrows explained. “We’re proud of the efforts we’ve made to make our schools the safe environments they are.”

Annual audit reveiwed

Tom Strohmeier of Louisville’s Strohmeier CPAs gave the district’s annual audit report, with few surprises. The report revealed $10.4 million in revenue and roughly $10 million in expenses. As of June 30, 2012, district assets exceeded liabilities by more than $15.7 million.

Strohmeier commended the district’s work for greater school-level accountability. “It’s important for principals to drill down through the check they’re signing, to the reason for the check,” he explained.

At semester’s end, all school principals offered generally upbeat reports. Holiday programs went well throughout the district. James said Milton Elementary’s musical program of kindergarten through third-grade students was a big success -- with a capacity crowd.

“Even with 100 extra chairs (over 2011), we had a packed house,” James said. Music instructor Melissa Staley “is doing such wonderful work with our kids.”

On Dec. 19, MES recognized students who reached distinguished and proficient achievement in content areas such as reading and math.

“Six of our students achieved distinguished status across the board,” said James. “So many students have said to me, ‘I want my name on the plaque this year.’”

Bedford Elementary School Principal Debbie Beeles reported a busy month for her students. Earlier this month, State Representative Rick Rand (D) visited the school and fielded what he called “tough” questions during a Q&A session with fifth graders.

BES’ holiday program of preschool through third-grade students was “just darling, including students dancing the tango,” Beeles remarked. The BES Chorus performed at the recent community concert held at the Bedford Baptist Church.

Trimble County Middle School Principal Mike Genton reminded the Board that basketball season has ended for his students. The girls’ basketball team ended the year 13-1. Their only loss came during the Class A tournament -- to a team they defeated once this season.

“This holiday, our students collected around 1,700 canned-food items for local needy families,” said Principal Genton.  At year’s end, 8th graders have completed the first round of the Princeton Review, which helps with college and career readiness and ACT preparation.

Genton also reported that representatives from the Schools To Watch® initiative will visit TCMS in January. According to the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform’s website, Schools to Watch singles out U.S. schools that are “well on their way to meeting the Forum’s criteria for high performance.”

TCHS Principal Adams said the high school has focused on freshman achievement, especially retention and benchmarks. Recently, sophomores, juniors and seniors met with district representatives in one-on-one sessions to see if students are on track with coursework and personal goals.

“It was a very positive experience for students and staff,” said Adams. Freshman will have a similar opportunity following return from holiday break. All TCHS students will follow up with additional one-on-one sessions later in 2013.  

Principal Adams also recognized TCHS junior Christian Apel, who recently qualified for the All-State Concert Band, organized by the Kentucky Music Educators Association. Apel, who plays first-chair clarinet in the TCHS band, will join other first-rate student musicians from across the state in February, with a concert to be held on Feb. 9. According to Adams, Apel is the first TCHS musician to earn the honor since the 1980s.

In other business, Stan Klausing of Scott, Klausing & Company said progress continues on district construction projects -- including the new Phase 1 athletic fields, which are essentially complete. “There’s still some clean up to do, grading, etc., but the fields are in excellent shape and draining well,” said Klausing.

On the high school’s “low” roof, metalwork and safety railings are among the few incomplete elements. According to Klausing, additional drains have already made a big difference on the low roof, which is now free of leaks.

Recent inspection of the main gym roof revealed hail damage and what appear to be holes caused by “blasts of gas escaping the insulation.” Klausing noted water “spurting out” of these holes. Settlement negotiations with the insurance company over storm damage continue, and main roof work remains on hold.

Steve Eggers of new Phase II architects K. Norman Berry and Associates met with the board for the first time since the firm joined the athletic fields project. Eggers said he would present more details at the next board meeting in January. Due to athletic team schedules, Eggers will offer two possible timelines: one schedule with zero home football games, and a timeline with limited home events.

“If our teams are willing to forego an entire home season, we want to take full advantage of that time,” said board member Burrows.  “We can’t ask our coaches and athletes to give that up unless we can make sure we can get some real work done.”

“Schematics, or the first plans, are always the most important phase of all,” said Eggers. “And in light of the project’s phasing, we don’t want to do something in the beginning that we’ll have to redo on down the road. It’s important that all our first efforts work well toward the ultimate result that you want.”  

School board member Jill Simmons offered her concise opinion: “You know what we’re after: the best of the best, for the money we’ve got, the soonest we can get it!”

This meeting was the last for school board member Joey Martin, who served on the board for over two years. “We’ve been blessed to have him,” said Superintendent Marcia Haney Dunaway. “He’s made good decisions for the good of all our kids.”

“I’ve always felt this board is 100% about what’s best for the district,” Martin said. “I’ve seen so much growth here.”

The Kentucky Department of Education is currently interviewing applicants to replace Martin on the board. Superintendent Dunaway anticipates KDE will appoint a new board member by the next meeting, to be held Jan. 16, 2013, at 6 p.m.