Schuylkill Haven School District gets grant to improve security

·4 min read

Aug. 14—The Schuylkill Haven School District received a $235,000 state grant for improving school safety and security, officials announced at the Aug. 10 school board meeting.

At the meeting, Dr. Shawn Fitzpatrick, superintendent, gave an update on the school's safety plan for the 2022-23 school year.

He said the district plans to use the grant to hire an administrator who will coordinate with school officials, the Schuylkill County Intermediate Unit and state and local police to develop safety solutions.

Those solutions may involve going over building floor plans with police to find and reinforce areas where security is weak, said Fitzpatrick.

"If there are doors in a building that we feel are a security issue, this is our chance ... to remove any opportunity for anyone to pry a handle and get into that school," Fitzpatrick said.

The improvements may include changing out old locks, removing exterior handles on doors and adding cameras and additional security hardware.

In addition, the district will again hold an annual safety day near the start of the year, where a school day is dedicated to aspects of safety, like practicing emergency drills for weather, fires, or an active shooter.

"The message is clear: your safety is important," Fitzpatrick said, "if you come into a building where you don't feel safe, learning isn't going to happen."

Officials also noted that the district's COVID-19 policy will remain the same as the previous year, meaning masks won't be required.

Another safety-related measure will involve devoting a professional development day to teaching self-care and mental health maintenance to teachers and staff.

"When we have healthy people working for us, we produce a better product," Fitzpatrick said.

Also at the meeting, officials noted several additions to the curriculum as part of a districtwide push to expand STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) initiatives in all grades.

A K-4 math pilot that has led to a significant increase in state assessment results has been fully adopted by the district, and a drone building class and advanced computer science programming courses will also begin this fall, said Dr. Susan Morgan, director of curriculum, instruction, and technology.

Agriculture and horticulture courses will be expanded once construction wraps for a state-funded greenhouse for school garden programs.

The greenhouse should be built by November or December, officials said at a previous meeting.

Fitzpatrick noted that the district's use and implementation of technology is "light-years above" where it was prior to COVID.

In other business, the school board approved a three-year contract for student bus services with R&J Transportation Inc., Pottsville.

R&J is the district's current bus service provider.

Business manager Kimberly Umphrey noted that transportation prices had increased due to the rising cost of fuel and driver wages, but that increase was offset by the district's efforts to consolidate bus runs.

Fitzpatrick said administrators were worried a spike in transportation prices would mean the district would have to cut bus service for students within walking distance of the school, in areas where the district isn't reimbursed for offering transportation.

"We thought we'd have to come to you in August and say, 'we can't afford to transport those students anymore,'" Fitzpatrick said, "we didn't have to do that. But that's not to say we won't have to in the future."

Also Wednesday, district resident Peg Goulet-Palladino said ongoing mechanical issues with the district's pool continue to cause issues for students on the swim team.

Goulet-Palladino, who officiates at home swim meets, said problems with the filtration system, heater, and vacuum, and a lack of maintenance around the pool area had led students and parents from visiting swim teams to make disparaging comments about the facilities.

"I got the 'wow look at the outside fields, they don't care much about the pool, do they,'" Goulet-Palladino said, "that was one of the favorite comments."

She said the issues have prevented the varsity swim team from starting its season by practicing in the pool for years, and that cold temperatures due to heater malfunctions make it hard for some swimmers to stay in the water.

Fitzpatrick said those comments failed to consider the $1 million the district invested over the last five years to replace steel beams, HVAC systems, sound systems, filters and more.

"More (money has been spent on the pool) than the soccer field and Buffington Field combined," Fitzpatrick said, "the pool has not, in any way shape or form, been overlooked, when you look at our checkbook ledger and the hours our people have invested."

Fitzpatrick said the pool, built in 1962, was rotted and rusted before a series of recent renovations.

He said a new part is coming to fix current issues with the pool's mechanics, and the district could outsource maintenance and cleaning currently handled by district custodial staff.

Fitzpatrick said he hopes to offer more aquatics events, such as community pool parties and senior citizen programs, but the district needs financial help from the borough.

"If we're going to operate as a community pool, we need help from the community," Fitzpatrick said.