AMASA—Forest Park’s School Board started its annual tour of the townships Oct. 28, and the first stop was the Hematite Township Hall here.
Forest Park has held meetings at township halls for the last several years. The board’s Nov. 18 meeting will be at the Mastodon Township Hall in Alpha, and the Dec. 16 meeting is hosted by Mansfield Township.
Just a few township residents attended the meeting, where an emphasis seemed to be on explaining how money raised from last year’s bonding vote is being used.
Two big projects are still to be started. One is repairing or replacing sections of the sidewalk in front of the Eddie Chambers Gym. The district voted to seek bids for work next spring.
Another big project is repairing the roof over the 1998 section of the school building, which is no longer under warranty. Board members voted to seek bids for that project.
District officials hope the roof work will be done in three phases. First priority is the roof over the multi-purpose room and gymnasium. The other two parts are either side of the “U” shaped roof.
Bids are being asked now so the bond committee can plan its budget. “At this point,” said Superintendent Becky Waters, “we are going to put everything on hold until all the bills are in and we see where we’re at financially.”
So far, said Board President Jim Nocerini, “We’re pretty much on budget, with everything we have accomplished.” He said that people who took a recent tour of the school “were really surprised at the technology.
“Even our bus, our gymnasiums, our doors. I think someone made the comment, They’d like to come back to school” after seeing the interactive whiteboards being used in many classrooms.
Another feature that impressed visitors, the board president said, was the Lightspeed device now being worn by teachers. This allows them to speak in a normal voice anywhere and be heard easily throughout the room, even by those with hearing impairments.
Nocerini also reported that the new high school science room is now complete. “It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s amazing what our kids will have there. It’s made for the 21st century.” The budget was $247,000, “and we hit it right on.”
• Superintendent Waters spoke about the improved security system at the school. An intercom has been set up at the main entrance (commonly called “door No. 1”), where visitors press a “visitor” button. It signals the school offices, which are equipped with big screen TVs. A staff member looks at the camera and pushes the button to unlock the door.
The TVs are also connected to security cameras located throughout the school.
“We finally have a secure building,” she said. “We’re completely locked down during the day. It’s been very well-received—parents are very happy about it.”
• Security doors for the Eddie Chambers Gym have been completed and programmed.
Air conditioning for the school business office has been approved by the bond committee. The board accepted the bid of Blagec Brothers from Kingsford.
• Another addition at Forest Park is a water bottle filling station—students can refill plastic bottles there rather than using new ones, reducing the amount of plastic waste going into landfills. So far, the district has saved over 4,300 plastic bottles.
• A project to improve seating and access to the bleachers at the Eddie Chambers Gym was done months ago. But not everything is to the district’s liking yet.
First, said Nocerini, the work was done late, and some seat boards have still not been installed. Until that is done, the district is holding payment, and Nocerini said the district is expecting a discount, too.
“We were promised many things,” he said. “He hasn’t come across yet.”
• Waters said additional gravel has been delivered and spread at the school playgrounds. “Really, the students liked it better in the piles,” she noted. “For a day, they had a lot of fun.”
• Board Member Lisa Bloomburg reported the October student count was 451, with three more students coming in. She said that payments for food service had been delayed due to the federal government shutdown, but those have now been paid.
Also paid over the last month are the delinquent tax payments from the county and state aid payments. “That means we won’t have to borrow,” Nocerini said.
• The board approved contracts and salary adjustments for Waters, as superintendent and elementary principal; Lisa Olson, as middle and high school principal; Kathy Stankewicz, as business manager; Deb Strelecki, as district administrative assistant; and Karen Burge, as administrative assistant.
• A power transmission line will be going through the school forest. Board Member Don Peterson is working on that in connection with the Log A Load program planned for next spring, with hopes of getting both done at the same time.
• The district’s quest to find a full pre-K teacher continues. An interview had been scheduled earlier that day but was canceled when the candidate accepted another job.
The board has hired a pre-K paraprofessional for the post. Deb Bendick is the most qualified person available, board officials said, and is close to being fully credentialed. She has been a sub in the class for about a year.
• Waters said district teachers are all learning about the interactive whiteboards. During a professional development day, they took part in online seminars to learn how to operate the devices.
“They are all very excited about it,” Waters said. All but four of the interactive whiteboards have been installed.
School officials explained to the audience that interactive whiteboards (Smart Boards) are versions of whiteboards—which replaced the blackboards and chalkboards from generations ago. “It’s to engage students more.”
Nocerini said Forest Park had its first interactive whiteboard in a science room about five years ago.
• Bloomburg said the school is now using a roaming cart to carry small laptop computers (Chromebooks) here and there in the school building. The devices are hooked up so they can keep charged. After the class, they are returned to their storage area near the office. “The kids really enjoy them,” Waters said.
Funds from a new state program will be used to purchase tablet computers for use by elementary grades.