Safety, security top SPS vision for 2023

Published 5:12 pm Tuesday, June 20, 2023

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School Board members and the public got a look at what lies ahead for Suffolk Public Schools in the 2023-24 school year.

During the June 8 School Board meeting held at City Hall, Superintendent John B. Gordon III, Ph.D., provided updates with the theme of looking ahead.

The presentation also was used to alert the public of major projects upcoming to the SPS Division, including updates to safety and security, the design of the new SPS pharmacy, maintenance for SPS facilities and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) instruction.

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“This is actually one of my favorite times of the year, because I get to tell the entire board and our school community what the plan is for the next 12 to 15 months,” said Gordon during the meeting.

Safety and security

On safety and security, Gordon revealed that there will be a “Suffolk Public School Critical Threat Event” with an active shooter drill. The specific date for the simulation, which will take place in August, was intentionally omitted from the public meeting. Following the drill, district officials will meet with the City of Suffolk to be briefed on what measures that need improvement.

“This is actually something that I did when I was Chief of Schools in Chesterfield and working with our operations department there, and I’ve asked Dr. [Rodney] Brown to lead this,” Gordon said. “Dr. Brown has met with all of our emergency services team, where this drill is going to be real.”

He explained that both students and staff will take part in the simulation with fake gunshots and fake casualties. Gordon explained that this will help with their plans of moving students and staff to safety while having the students and their parents “reconvene” in a different location. This will also let SPS team members see if the safety procedures put in place have worked. 

“We will have the mobile unit there, the Suffolk Police Department there, the Fire Department will be there, the Sheriff’s Office will be a part of it,” he said.

Gordon also announced a new SPS Safety Camp running from Aug. 22-24 to train staff, while adding new safety/security monitors. The crosswalk between King’s Fork Middle and High schools is one of the areas of interest based on Safety Audit Committee recommendations.

“Why can’t the tickets that the city is giving with these new stop cameras fund that? They’re happening in front of our school anyway, so this is where I need your help to make that happen,” Gordon said on funding the crosswalk.

STAR Program and SPS pharmacy

For SPS support, details unveiled on the STAR (Start Today And Rise) Program, where 15 students have been signed to work for the SPS division. The program also will provide professional learning for staff that want to grow in their career. 

Gordon also provided details about the design of the SPS Pharmacy. It will have three stations available to order medicine, with the pick up counter to the left of the stations. The pharmacy will be open all day and allow staff to pick up medications before and after work.

“We are basically in the process right now of reconfiguring the entire meeting room that we recently had [as] the operations center, that’s going to be the location for this,” Gordon said. “This is a strong feather in the cap and kudos to Wendy Forsman for leading this effort where people are going to save a lot of money for their medications.”

STEM instructional leads, facilities maintenance 

The superintendent also talked about the continued partnership with 21st CentEd to provide STEM education to the SPS division. Along with the STEM Extravaganza held June 20, Gordon explained the benefits of STEM instruction outside the classroom, pointing to economic and workforce development for students interested in robotics jobs and esports. 

Gordon also thanked United Way for its $62,000 donation for the STEM Academy and TowneBank for funding of the Suffolk edition of the book “Stem Century: It Takes a Village to Raise a 21st-Century Graduate,” which features SPS students as writers.

Finally, Gordon provided a list for SPS facilities and maintenance. The list included the completion of King’s Fork High School’s synthetic field, starting site work to replace John F. Kennedy Middle School, replacing the sinks and countertops at both Lakeland and Nansemond River high schools and replacing the lighting at John Yeates Middle School. 

Additionally, he outlined plans for a new gym floor for Northern Shores Elementary School, HVAC and sinkhole emergency repairs, auditorium improvements for Lakeland High School slated for this winter, and design work for Northern Shores expansion, which will start after the first of July. 

On technology, he said cameras are planned for football stadiums and outdoor learning units as well as fiber extension, camera and telephone replacements. Following the end of the list as well as the presentation, board Vice Chair Heather Howell asked Gordon why people “see a lot of maintenance at this point in the year.”

“And correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding was that City Council doesn’t support maintenance and equipment as a line item in our budget yearly,” Howell said. “It’s something we have to take care of ourselves with what we have available at the end of the year.”

“Yes,” Gordon replied. “It’s two-fold. So we actually had as part of the CIP [Capital Improvement Plan], you had basically permitting the maintenance [of] $3.5 million which included asbestos removal and stuff like that. But in the past when it came to fixing some of the other things, we haven’t received support from that.” 

At the end of the year, Wendy Forsman takes a look at not only how long it takes for things to be ordered, he said, “but what can be done that can actually spread over two fiscal years and that’s the funds that she uses. We wish we had more.”

Gordon further explained that before the amount was $3.5 million, the previous amount was $1 million per year for “21 buildings” which was “$50,000 per building.” 

Howell followed up to clarify that the school is responsible for “any major repairs” despite not budgeting for sinkholes, and sidewalks caving in.

“I just wanted to put that out there,” Howell said. “I know it was shared with the board after our meeting, but just a point for citizens that see this to-do list here where there’s a lot of maintenance. And that’s why.”

“Yes ma’am,” Gordon replied. “Thank you for stating that.”