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January 2, 2013

Stillwater schools make safety a priority in 2013


STILLWATER, Okla. — Major construction and renovation projects and the debate about the statewide school grading system will be a focus for the new year, but Stillwater’s senior school administrator said nothing will be more important than school safety.

“When I think about goals for 2013 for Stillwater Public Schools, it’s for a calmer year,” Superintendent Ann Caine said. “I really want parents to feel like school is safe for their children, and I want our employees to feel safe. That’s a huge deal. Safety is No. 1. It has to be. ... We have to make sure school is safe for everybody.”

Several practices already in place will be more strictly enforced. For instance, visitors to schools will be required to check in at the office, show identification and state their purpose for the visit before being issued a visitor’s pass.

“We’re going to be more vigilant on who is coming into our buildings,” Caine said. “Not that we think anything is going to happen, but I think in the times we live in, we can’t assume that something tragic like Connecticut can’t happen in Stillwater.”

On Dec. 14, a 20-year-old gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children under the age of 7, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. That came less than three months after a Stillwater Junior High School eighth-grader committed suicide at school before classes was set to begin.

“One of the big lessons we learned was that we need to focus more on mental health and how our counselors use their time,” Caine said.

The district has purchased a three-part Lifelines curriculum, and will implement the comprehensive suicide prevention program for students in sixth-grade through high school. Lifelines is designed to make school staff and students more aware of how to identify at-risk youth. Faculty, staff and administrators will begin training with the curriculum in the second semester.

“We will be getting that (curriculum) rolled out over the next 12 months,” Caine said. “That’s a big goal for 2013.”

Caine said she is not a proponent of hiring additional school resource officers or arming teachers with firearms.

“It’s a bigger problem of our nation,” Caine said. “It’s a huge problem, and we have to start talking about what are we doing for wellness of everyone instead of being reactionary and saying we need to hire more police, we need to have teachers and administrators carry a gun. I think we need to talk about the bigger issue, that elephant in the room. We need to talk about mental health. ... If we don’t have healthy kids coming to school, it doesn’t matter what we’re doing in the classroom or on the ball field. They have to be ready to learn.”

The district is well under way with the construction of two new elementary schools — Will Rogers Elementary School and Highland Park Elementary School. Will Rogers is expected to be open soon after school begins next fall, while Highland Park is on schedule to open for the first day of classes.

Roofing projects will begin in January at Stillwater High School, Stillwater Junior High and Stillwater Middle School. The target date for completion is spring break, “hopefully before the spring rains hit,” Caine said.

Planning continues with the development of an athletic and wellness complex at Cimarron Plaza. Cost estimates are expected in January. Caine said a grassroots fundraising effort will be initiated soon after.

Caine said the Stillwater Board of Education will be working on a policy for naming rights to the proposed complex.

“The Cimarron Plaza project is another one of our big construction projects, just the fundraising alone,” Caine said. “We’re talking about a big chunk of money.”

Caine said it is the district’s goal to raise the entire amount of money for the project without assistance of the next bond election, which could be in approximately four years.

“I don’t want to put any of Cimarron on the bond. I want it all to be private money,” Caine said.

Talks will continue about the controversial A-F Report Cards issued in October to each school in the state.

Caine said during a recent advisory board meeting with State Superintendent Janet Barresi, the state’s chief school administrator asked for feedback on the report cards.

“All of us in the room were able to tell her our concerns about the grading and her staff took notes,” Caine said. “They are compiling the notes and meeting with different groups of people and getting feedback so they know what they need to adjust going forward. I felt very good after that meeting that they were listening.”

Many school administrators believe the formula used to calculate the grades is flawed, and that not enough weight is given to student achievement and growth. But Barresi is pushing forward with the plan.

“The A-F report cards for schools will allow parents and citizens to easily find out how a school is doing without having to look at complicated information,” Barresi said last fall. “The intent of the reform is not to point fingers. Our focus is on supporting parents, teachers and school leaders so they can use the information in the report cards to build on success and work toward improvement in other areas.’’

Some of the bigger activities coming up this spring include Taste of Stillwater on March 26 at the Payne County Expo Center. The fundraising event is hosted by the Stillwater Public Education Foundation.

High school graduation ceremonies are May 24.

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