By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — As the country remembers and mourns the loss of 20 students and six adults on today’s anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting, the focus of school safety in the Norman Public Schools’ 2014 bond issue is discussed by NPS administrators. Superintendent Dr. Joe Siano said not one particular incident spurred the district to focus on safety and security, but that over the past 10 years, due to incidents like Columbine and Sandy Hook, such concerns have risen to the top of national discussions.
One of six focus areas of the 2014 bond issue is to continue to upgrade safety and security efforts including additional safe rooms and completion of secure vestibules. In total, $17,382,016 is slated to focus on safety and security out of the $126 million five-year bond issue. The bond will pay for secure entry vestibules, classroom additions that include safe rooms and enclosed classrooms.
Dr. Roger Brown, NPS administrative services assistant superintendent, said Norman Public Schools has been working on enhanced security and safety since the 2006 bond, in which Truman Elementary’s gymnasium was made into a safe room. Siano said each bond builds upon one another and that each capital investment is progressive, and schools that are not expected to receive secure entry vestibules with the new bond, already have secure entries that were updated with previous bonds.
“We (the school district) determined that safety and security will always be a bond focus.” Siano said. “We don’t start something and not finish it.”
Secure entry vestibules create an entryway to schools that only allows visitors access to a schools’ classrooms, students and teachers after passing through a main office. Such entryways create a barrier to visitors and intruders that combine with safety procedures to create a safe learning environment in which faculty and students can feel confident. The following schools will receive secure entry vestibules if the bond passes: Norman High School, Alcott Middle School, Longfellow Middle School, Cleveland Elementary School, Eisenhower Elementary School, Jackson Elementary School, Kennedy Elementary School, Monroe Elementary School and Wilson Elementary School.
“The parents and principals that I have talked to really appreciate the secure entries in their schools because they have created an obvious change in the dynamics of the buildings,” Siano said.
Safe rooms provide safe shelter during an invasion by an intruder or during strong storms like tornados. With the recent devastating May tornados, many parents and residents are concerned with equipping schools with safe rooms. The following schools would receive renovations that incorporate safe rooms: Norman High and Norman North both would get collegiate centers that contain safe rooms; Irving Middle School would get a classroom addition with safe room and a wrestling/safe room combination; Whittier Middle School would get a wrestling/safe room combination; Lincoln Elementary School would get a classroom addition with safe room and a cafeteria/safe room combination; and Reagan Elementary School would get a four-classroom pod addition with safe room.
Siano said that neither secure entryways or safe rooms were focused on more than the other, and that new additions to schools would always incorporate tornado shelters.
Enclosed classrooms create classrooms with traditional walls and a door that provide a teacher with the ability to lock down his or her classroom. At the time of the 2009 bond, the school district had four open concept classrooms. Two of those four schools, Irving and Whittier Middle Schools, were remodeled to become enclosed classroom buildings.
“You don’t think about it, but it sets a tone,” Brown said. “I want students to feel like they’re in a learning environment.”
Currently, Kennedy Elementary and Eisenhower Elementary have open classroom concepts in which a mishmash of materials, including dry erase boards, book shelves, computers, desks, etc., create separation between classes that are contained in one large space. Siano said he believed the biggest advantage of enclosed classrooms is the sense of security they provide teachers, but that there might be instructional impact as well, as teachers may utilize activities and lessons that might not be appropriate previously due to noise level for example.
District-wide cameras and card readers will also help enhance security.
Overall, Siano said each safety and security investment the $126 million bond would bring to Norman schools provides administration and teachers with more time to stay safe.
“There is only a small amount of time an intruder can act before a school and law enforcement reacts,” Siano said. “The more obstacles that you create, like secure entryways and enclosed classrooms, the more time you give school officials to protect themselves and students.”
The bond will come to a vote on Feb. 11. More information about the bond can be found at norman.k12.ok.us/ beginning in January.
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