Schools make improvements

Filtered water, safety entrances among changes

Tribune Chronicle / Bob Coupland Howland School Supertintendent Kevin Spicher stands inside a new vestibule at Howland Middle School. Each of the district's six school buildings has a new vestibule.

HOWLAND — Chromebooks for each student in fifth and ninth grades, new filtered water drinking fountains and safety entrance vestibules at each school are all changes and improvements for the 2017-18 school year, which kicked off Tuesday.

Howland Superintendent Kevin Spicher said this year, elementary students are being picked up by school buses and taken directly to their school and not have to go to another building first as was done in previous years. He said the district was able to work out bus routes so students do not have to go to a transfer point.

”We were able to address the exact ridership using Versatrans software. This way, all children on a bus have direct transportation to their school and will not be on the buses as long,” he said.

Versatrans Routing and Planning software is an easy-to-use school bus routing and district planning software system.

When the students arrived at their schools, they saw newly installed secured entrance vestibules by the main front doors.

”People visiting a school will not be able to obtain access to the building when they walk in. They will stay in the vestibule and will be able to hand lunches, books, gym bags or papers through a window. Ninety percent of the parents and people who stop at the school will stay in the vestibule,” Spicher said.

He said taxpayers have expressed concerns to him about keeping school doors secured.

Spicher said permanent improvement funds covered the costs.

”Safety and security are always our top priority and we are completing a number of projects across the district to ensure our students are updated to that important safety standard,” Spicher said.

Each building also has new filtered drinking water through new fountain systems that ensure all water is purified.

Spicher said in past years, the district regularly tested the water and found some fountains had lead.

”There will be no detectable levels of lead in the water with the new filtration system,” he said.

Gordon Brothers did the installation work with state funds helping with project costs.

Students in grades fifth and ninth will receive Chromebooks for their learning as part of the new ”1 to 1” technology initiative where all students in grades fifth to 12th will have a Chromebook.

Students will be able to do more curriculum and work online. Spicher said teachers have received professional training on use of the Chromebooks.

There also will be new engineering courses offered at the high school and new STEM Discovery rooms at the primary buildings.

Also new for the year are a new cafeteria food service for breakfast and lunch, and the second year of all-day kindergarten.