8-15-14: Summer improvements focus on student learning and safety
8-15-14: Summer improvements focus on student learning and safety
Posted on 08/15/2014

Not long after students left school in June for summer break, construction workers arrived on campuses districtwide to begin making facility and technology improvements that support student learning and enhance school safety.


This summer was particularly busy for schools following the successful passage last February of two school district levy measures.


The levies support projects such as improving aging school buildings, updating classroom technology, enhancing school safety and security, and making program changes such as the expansion of full-day kindergarten this fall to all elementary schools districtwide.


Instructional and building improvements


Full-day kindergarten


Classrooms have been modified in some schools and portable classroom buildings added to others in support of the school board’s decision last spring to expand full-day kindergarten to all elementary schools this fall.


Some portable classrooms have also been added at school sites to accommodate enrollment growth.


The full-day kindergarten program, which provides enriched and expanded learning opportunities, was offered last year at Firgrove, Spinning, and Stewart elementary schools.


This fall, it replaces half-day programs at the district’s other 18 elementary schools.


At several buildings, including Sunrise and Woodland elementary schools, classes and programs have been moved to different areas of the school to make room for full-day kindergarten programs.


Construction work over the summer included moving desks and chairs, as well as installing age-appropriate furniture in new kindergarten classrooms. Late last month, for example, workers unpacked and installed wooden kindergarten “cubbies” at Sunrise Elementary to hold young students’ jackets and backpacks.


Newly purchased portable classrooms that have been located on some elementary school campuses will most often be used to serve students in the school’s upper grades and in specialty programs, said Director of Capital Projects Gary Frentress.


Instructional technology


About $2.5 million is being invested this summer in instructional technology improvements.


One of the most noticeable changes is at the elementary level, where every classroom across the district that didn’t have interactive white board technology when school let out in June will have it installed by the time students return in September.


Interactive white boards have been a proven instructional tool to enhance student learning in this district, said Randy Averill, executive director of technology services.

Classrooms that already had interactive white boards (SmartBoards) but had projectors on rolling carts will regain floor space with secure, wall-mounted projectors. Nearly 200 of these projectors were installed over summer.


Teaching spaces that didn’t have the interactive technology (nearly 200 of them) have had wall-mounted interactive projectors, which operate with basic white boards, installed and ready for teaching and learning on the first day of school. In some cases, white boards have been moved or replaced with newer versions to accommodate the latest technology, Averill said.


Later this school year, interactive white board technology will begin to be expanded to junior high and high schools, he said.


Teachers will also receive new laptop computers this summer and fall as part a three-year laptop replacement program that launched last spring.


The district will replace all 1,200 teacher laptops, representing the first time in 10 years that new laptops have been distributed to teaching staff.


The goal, Averill said, will be to work into a replacement cycle so that all teachers get new laptops every three years, with one-third replaced annually. Used laptops will be repurposed for student use.


Other technology work this summer includes replacing old computer network wiring at Pope Elementary and upgrading the district’s backup system for network storage to prevent information loss in the event of a system failure.


Firgrove Elementary site improvements


Students and staff will immediately notice changes when they arrive back to school at Firgrove Elementary.


The aging building received a fresh coat of paint inside and out, as well as new carpeting throughout classrooms, the library, and support areas.


Some damaged floor and ceiling tiles, as well as double-paned windows where seals have failed, have also been replaced.


Additionally, workers installed new student computer lab workstation surfaces, tack boards in some hallway corridors to display student work or other classroom materials, and fencing between the buildings to help prevent students — especially those with special needs — from running toward the heavily traveled Meridian Street.


Firgrove Elementary parent Mike Macias, who is president of Macmor Inc. Landscape and Irrigation in Puyallup, also volunteered to remove overgrown shrubbery around the school. New landscaping will be planted in its place, Frentress said.


The $375,000 of school improvements are designed to bridge the gap in support of student learning, at least for the next five to seven years, until a new school can be built, said Chief Operations Officer Rudy Fyles.


“We simply can’t wait anymore to make improvements on some of our older buildings like Firgrove,” Fyles said.


Safety improvements


Security cameras and keyless entries


Additional security cameras and keyless door entries are being installed this summer and fall in many of the district’s schools and support buildings.


Keyless entries allow employees to swipe a card programmed to enter a building from any door. They are also more efficient in school lockdowns, as all doors can be locked simultaneously.


Basic security camera systems are being added at elementary schools that did not have the technology, while more comprehensive systems have been added at some junior high and high schools to make them comparable with other campuses districtwide.


Emergency response systems grant


The additional security equipment, funded with 2014 school levy money, will complement work that will be done over the next year to improve emergency response systems.


The district learned in May that it was awarded a $425,640 grant from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to improve school safety and police response times in the event of an emergency.


State Sen. Bruce Dammeier, a former Puyallup School Board member who is vice chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, was the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 5197, which created the school safety competitive grant program.


In an opinion column he recently wrote for a local newspaper, Dammeier said the legislation “recognized that coordination between local law enforcement and school districts is essential.” He also wrote, “The result is a great step forward toward improving student security for our entire state, and especially Puyallup and all of Pierce County.”


Security cameras, school intercoms, and keyless door systems throughout the district will be integrated into a single computer software program that will connect authorized school resource officers, emergency dispatch personnel, and district staff to the latest emergency information.


This, in turn, will speed up emergency response time by law enforcement and provide more detailed information, such as live video camera feeds, once officers arrive on scene.


Law enforcement will also be able to hear activity and make announcements over the building’s intercom systems, as well as control the locking and unlocking of doors that are programmed with keyless entry.


“In an emergency, time is of the essence,” said Puyallup Police Chief Bryan Jeter. “Having real-time information will be a huge help.”


The software program, which will be funded with the state grant, will require detailed school site maps that accurately show room locations and dimensions, as well as the location of video cameras.


In preparation for the launch of this new technology, college interns working this summer in the district’s Facilities department have been updating maps for all of the district’s schools and support facilities.


The maps will be more contextual than existing basic line drawings, which will be converted into a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) format. The maps will be interactive, much like Google maps, said Tom Shields, construction management specialist and project manager for the emergency response grant project.


In an emergency, authorized viewers such as police dispatchers can zoom in to get layers of detail and data for both indoor and outdoor areas, Shields said. They can click a video camera icon, for instance, to get a live feed of activity in that area.


The maps will also provide the district with detailed information in nonemergency situations for planning and instructional purposes, he said.