By NEESEY PAYNE
Although given the opportunity to comment in an open forum about what they would like to see in a new or renovated school, very few parents of students showed up to voice their opinions at the community meeting held at Pulaski Middle School (PMS) recently. The majority of audience members consisted of school board members, county representatives and teachers.
Although the audience was small in number, many thoughtful ideas were brought to OWPR Vice President J.D. Price concerning education offerings, security, the use of schools as community centers and design.
Mike Stacy, a parent, said the school system should consider adding a class on ethics to its curriculum. He said students should be learning more than just “reading, writing and arithmetic, that students and families have a place in communities.”
With a push for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education in the school system, Georgeanne Lavery, a PMS math teacher, said it would be great if there was “a lab that could be shared (amongst math and science teachers) that was dedicated to STEM enrichment activities.”
Lavery said a lot of the rooms in the middle school aren’t equipped with enough space to carry out certain project-based activities. She said if teachers don’t have adequate space to do certain projects “they’re not going to do it.” With enough space in rooms and the addition of a lab “(teachers) will be more inclined to do STEM projects,” she said.
Lavery also said it would be nice to have a greenhouse on campus. She said it would allow the middle school to bridge the gap with agricultural studies at the high school. She added the greenhouse or “outdoor lab” could be shared by many teachers.
When it comes to sports, one major concern expressed was the lack of practice space for the track team. “Our track and field is pretty sad,” Lavery said. She explained the kids practicing long jump have to “run across the parking lot and into a hole that people have dumped sand into.” She said students running across the parking lot is a safety concern with the high level of traffic that takes place in the afternoon.
Tony Viers, a teacher and coach at PMS, said since there is no straightaway for students to practice hurdling. He said team members have to wait until the buses run before they can start practicing, and even then students have to watch for cars.
Stacy said there is “a fairly active running community around here.” He said there has been some interest expressed in having a cross country team. He explained that he was not sure if other middle schools compete in cross country, but “we need a way to develop runners for the high school team.”
Viers said if offered, he believed several students would participate in baseball, softball and soccer.
Lavery said wrestling is a “huge sport” at the middle school and it would be nice for them to have the facilities to carry out practices, as of now students are traveling to Dublin Middle School.
A bigger gym area to facilitate multiple practices after school was also a widely accepted idea.
Lavery said it would be nice to have an outdoor space with a paved area, benches and tables for kids to enjoy the outdoors on nice days.
On the issue of school security, Steve Lavery, a Pulaski County High School teacher, expressed concern about the number of entrance ways in buildings that are the age of PMS. “I think there are an awful lot of ways and points to enter the building and it makes it difficult for faculty to monitor (hallways) and make sure people who are coming into the building are authorized visitors that have gone through the proper check-in procedures,” he said.
Another issue brought forth was kids passing visitors who are standing outside of the main office while students are heading to lunch, gym or switching classes.
Like in other community meetings, it was expressed that the technical education building should be attached to the school. It was also said the lack of parking presents a safety issue, as well.
Theresa Reed, principal at PMS, said cars will drive down the sidewalk leading to the technical education building because “we simply don’t have enough spaces.” She also said buses don’t have the proper room to “stack” in the afternoons. She added, there is a major safety concern about the parent pickup area because kids have to cross a street to get into vehicles.
Because of the lack of parking, Georgeanne Lavery said anytime there is a major event at the school cars will line both sides of the entrance way to the parking lot. “That’s a safety hazard,” she said. “At times a fire truck would have a difficult time getting through in an emergency.”
Not only is parking an issue, but traffic patterns and limited lighting makes it difficult when driving, said Stacy.
Steve Lavery said handicap accessibility needs to be addressed. “It’s time for us to have a more progressive approach to accessibility,” he said.
J.D. Price, vice president, OWPR and moderator of the meeting, asked if PMS was renovated, would they like the character of the building preserved or have the building take on a more modern appearance.
It’s “purely a cost analysis,” said Nick Glenn. He said there was certainly a need for updates to classrooms. More importantly, he said teachers need to know how to use the technology and apply it in the classroom. Glenn explained he was attending the meeting because of his interests as a tax payer.
“It’s unfortunate that you don’t have a crowd of 200 or 300 in here,” he said.
Glenn added he was interested in what he sees as “growth of Pulaski.”
“Everybody seems to want to go over to Montgomery County with all their fancy new schools,” he said. “I don’t think we can compete with them. I think we have to do what’s best for our community.”
Price said although he has children in the Montgomery County school system, he believes Pulaski can compete with them.
“I think you can be better, I really do,” he said. I love the Pulaski County school system. It just feels like home, regardless of whether you’re an outsider or live here.”
Price reiterated what he has said in previous meetings in that Pulaski County schools are “head and shoulders above what (the architectural firm) is seeing in new schools, even in northern Virginia. The opportunities afforded to kids here is wonderful.”
Glenn said he believed parents and those who don’t have children in the school system should be educated as to the amount of technology used in schools today and the importance of integrating technology into the classroom.
Lavery said the school system has been great in supplying new technology for students to use, but there isn’t enough access to electricity in classrooms. Lavery said she has two outlets in her entire classroom that have to supply a projector, computer, a cart of MacBooks, cart of iPod touches and her desk computer.
“I don’t think there’s a room in my house that only has two outlets,” she said.
Dr. Thomas Brewster, superintendent of schools, said having wireless drops are a popular tool used in schools. He said the school system has installed some in classrooms that use mobile devices and MacBooks. “It’s important to have wireless access points within classrooms,” he said.
Price said even if the school system only decides to renovate the building, putting in new windows, having plenty of data and power capabilities in classrooms is an automatic.
Price said it’s important to make children “realize that they’re part of a greater community and a greater society.” In doing that, he said images and interactive streams could be projected in corridors so that “the building becomes a classroom.”
He said he doesn’t like to “approach any project with any preconceived notions.” Price said he believes “the building itself has to be a reflection of the community’s values and a reflection of what’s happening inside.”
Price asked if the school system decided to build a new school, would they want the building to blend with historical architecture of the town or have it look contemporary.
“The industrial past of Pulaski has helped bring people who are here and I don’t want the school to forget that,” said Lavery. She believes the building should be modern, but incorporate themes of Pulaski’s industrial past. “I think the kids want to walk into a building that is cool and that is different … and with the world,” she said.
The last community meeting will take place Monday, Feb., 11, 6:30 p.m., at Snowville Elementary School. The community is encouraged to attend the meeting and express their ideas to OWPR. Those who cannot attend the Snowville meeting, or have not had an opportunity to attend the other meetings, can still fill out an online survey. Brewster said approximately 300 people have responded to the survey. It can be found at HYPERLINK “http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/83WQ5D8″www.surveymonkey.com/s/83WQ5D8.