In a unanimous vote, the governing board of the Southern Humboldt Unified School District approved last Thursday the hiring of a Eureka firm to install a new telephone and voice mail system at Redway Elementary.
The cost to the district of hiring the firm, Stewart Telecommunications, is $10,350. That includes over $8,000 for “materials” — the new system is made by Toshiba — and $1,400 in labor costs.
The decision was made during the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting, which took place this time around at South Fork High School in Miranda.
In the discussion that preceded the vote, District Superintendent Catherine Scott described the situation at the Redway school as “an emergency” given that the school at that point had been without a functioning telephone system for about a week.
The system failed after a regularly scheduled power outage conducted by the Pacific Gas & Electric Company. Redway Principal Paula Panfilio said that when power was restored — the outage reportedly lasted some 20 minutes — the lights came back on “but the phone system was kaput.”
“The brains of the phone system got fried,” was the way Scott described the malfunction to the board.
Board Member Thomas Mulder wondered whether the district could “make a claim against PG&E.” Scott indicated that the district would look into it. When Mulder wondered whether such a claim could be made online, District Staff Member Bambi Henderson said: “That’s the way to do it.”
Scott reminded the board that the phone system at Redway Elementary took a hit — literally — last school year when “a bird flew into a transformer.” But on that occasion, the system was able to recover.
“It was brought back to life. Now it’s officially dead,” Scott said.
Panfilio, in a brief interview outside the meeting room, said that the school has been able to limp along without a phone and voice mail system. For one thing, the school’s secretary has a landline that still works. And she said there’s still a functioning telephone in the school’s Family Resource Center.
“Our bell system works,” Panfilio added, explaining that it’s possible for the front office to ring a bell in each classroom. That’s one way to communicate. Another way is through cell phones, which Panfilio said are being “used more than normal.”
“We also have walkie-talkie radios,” she related, explaining that, “We always use the main [walkie-talkie] radio for the playground.”
In terms of when a new telephone and voice mail system will be up and running, Panfilio said she didn’t know for sure. But she said her expectation is that it would be “soon.”
On another matter, Susan Goodfield, a language aide at the district, gave a presentation to the board on the district’s English Language Learner Programs.
In a later interview, Goodfield explained that this school year there are seven students new to the district for whom English is not their first language. “Most are Spanish speaking,” she said.
She said that for the students whose language proficiency has never been tested, a written and verbal test developed by the state needs to be administered within 30 days “so teachers can be informed” about the students’ language skills.
Students who have taken the test before have until Oct. 31 to take it again. Goodfield said the average time it takes for students to complete the test is two hours, “but they don’t have to do it all at once.”
Goodfield, who administers the tests, said that of the seven students about half have received the test so far. She said the students are elementary age and in some cases have moved to Southern Humboldt from another state or even another country.
“I just finished testing someone who comes from Mexico,” she shared.
District-wide, she said there are roughly 30 students whose native language is something other than English.
“For the majority of them, their original language is Spanish. But I’ve had Hebrew, Chinese, Hindi and Portuguese [speakers] in the years I’ve been doing this,” Goodfield said, explaining that she’s been a language aide at the district for the past five years.
Goodfield keeps up to speed by attending a “collaborative” at the district office once a month “to learn the latest technologies and things to use and links to go to” to help her be a more effective language instructor.
She pointed to Duolingo, a free app that can be placed on a smart phone or a computer, as one way that students can practice reading, writing and speaking English. Another is by using a district-wide computer program called “English in a Flash.”
A third, one that Goodfield has just started, is through National Geographic. It’s “a hard-book that’s probably online as well. It [has an] English language learning program that’s embedded in it that will help with [meeting state] Common Core [standards] and strengthen in-class work.”
Finally, there’s BrainPOP ESL, an online animated educational site for English language learners.
Goodfield said the younger the student, the quicker they tend to learn a new language. “For the average student, it usually takes about three years to become fluent,” she added.
“I really love it,” she went on, referring to teaching the kids. “The children are here to better themselves. They have a great attitude [toward] learning.”