After Hurricane Maria Hit, We Helped One School Fight Back

Hurricane Maria was the worst hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century, with winds reaching almost 200 miles per hour amid torrential rains and flooding. The disaster left millions of people without power, hundreds of thousands without access to basic necessities and 10,000 people homeless. The world watched with concern and compassion.

But when School Superintendent Jim McKay and Single Path’s Bill Spakowski saw the news, they decided to make a difference.

As superintendent for School District 117 in Antioch, Illinois, Jim McKay had helped send supplies to Houston after Hurricane Harvey. But he knew, this time, supplies were not enough. He needed to do more.

Jim knew the devastation would impact families and children most, and he also understood the vital role schools play in a community. “My mind is with kids,” said Jim McKay. “It’s with helping. When I heard kids in Puerto Rico were not being served, and maybe not being able to attend school for months, I knew I had to do something.” Jim reached out to other area school districts and business and community leaders. Jim had worked with Single Path to set up his own district’s 1:1 learning environment just a few months earlier, so Bill Spakowski of Single Path was near the top of his list of people to call. As Jim suspected, Bill jumped at the chance to help.

Puerto Rico already had considerable education challenges. An estimated 30 percent of Puerto Rico’s students receive specialized education, twice the average on the U.S. mainland. According to the New York Times, only 10 percent of seventh, eighth and 11th graders achieved proficiency in a standardized math test in 2017. Escuela Rafael de Jesús, an elementary school in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, was faced with similar challenges, even before the hurricane. This district serves 300-400 students of mostly low-income families (86% of them receive a free or reduced lunch) and a great number of special needs kids. They didn’t have the funds to recover from the hurricane on their own, at least not without a miracle. Jim, Bill and the group they named “Relief Through Leadership” became the school’s angels.

The amount of money and equipment Relief Through Leadership raised was impressive, and reflects the environment of caring and giving that both Jim and Bill advocate in their respective organizations.

Donated supplies and technical assistance from Single Path were married by similar efforts from other organizations. The group solicited no tax dollars. Volunteers who went to Puerto Rico paid for the trip out of their own pockets. And the amount of donations, work, and organization, was staggering. For example, local schools donated desktops and notebooks. CDN logistics trucked four pallets of computers from Lake Villa, Illinois to Miami. Carnival Cruise Line shipped those pallets to San Juan. The Mayor’s Office delivered the equipment to the school. And everything was donated. “We were one of the few volunteer groups that were able to crack the sea-transport challenge,” admits Jim McKay.

Jim, and his group of volunteers, which included two people from Single Path and eight school superintendents, flew down to Puerto Rico and got to work. Bill and his colleague not only helped set up two hundred computers, including desktop classroom computers and Chrome Books, but they joined the team spending time (and sweat) scraping paint from ceiling and walls and repainting the school building with paint purchased by Single Path.

Before the hurricane, their school library only had two computers. Now, Rafael de Jesús has its own computer lab. Said Jim McKay, “These computers changed their world. Literally.” He added, “In the world of education, the opportunities are significantly less if you don’t have access to the Internet. With technology, kids today are able to learn and grow so much faster. And we were able to go in and give them the chance to learn and grow in way they couldn’t have before.”

Jim McKay remembers how surprised the mayor, local leaders and the school’s staff were when he and his group arrived in Puerto Rico. “Honestly, when I talked to their principal back in February I don’t think she believed me,” he said. “Talk is cheap. But when we showed up she, and other faculty members, were nearly overcome with emotion.”

Neither Jim nor Bill feel their job is done. Today, Puerto Rico is still impacted by the lingering effects of Maria. While travelling through the island, Bill noticed the blue tarps still covering the roofs of many homes, and the debris of destroyed or damaged buildings that may never be replaced or restored. More than a quarter of Puerto Rico’s schools have closed since the storm and many were without electricity for months. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the island permanently, including many doctors and educators. Much of the relief the island has received, including a significant percentage of its educational funding, has been lost to waste, corruption and questionable spending practices. That’s why Relief Though Leadership plans to continue donating directly to the school, visiting annually, providing equipment and even new classroom furniture. Both Jim and Bill feel that acquiring and donating two thousand computers a year is a realistic goal. They also hope to set up a connected learning environment between local Illinois schools and Escuela Rafael de Jesús.

The time and energy provided by Relief Through Leadership is about more than making a difference today. It’s about the kids who will be the future of Puerto Rico. Said Bill Spakowski, “It’s about giving back and helping to develop the next generation of leaders. We’re a company that cares about making a difference, and truly cares about students.”

You can view a video showing some of the before and after images of Puerto Rico and Escuela Rafael de Jesús, and the relief efforts by Relief Through Leadership here. To learn more about Single Path, contact us.

The Value of an Emergency Alert System

Emergencies happen, and when they do, the ability to immediately communicate with your team and emergency responders can be critically important. A natural disaster. A weather alert. A gas leak. Or, something darker. Regardless of the problem, having a communication system in place can make the difference between keeping people safe or leaving them in peril, and keeping your data and equipment safe, too.

We recently worked with a major league baseball team and built a reliable emergency alert system for them. With tens of thousands of fans at their games, plus dozens of employees and players, a lack of communication during an emergency could have had severe consequences. Whether your organization has a thousand students spread out over a campus, hundreds of employees on multiple floors, or a dozen coworkers in relatively tight confines, communication could be the key to not only their safety, but your organization’s recovery.

In Case of Emergency

Benefits of an automated Emergency Alert System include:

  • Keeping staff and students safe from large-scale threats (major weather patterns, pandemics, terrorist activity and more)
  • Reducing the spread of misinformation
  • Communicating protocols: Automated alerts can specify exactly what to do in the time of crisis
  • Faster response times: Quicker alerts can save lives, and minimize business disruption
  • Web-based system: Alerts can be sent from anywhere
  • Regulatory compliance: Many organizations have different requirements for emergency mass notifications
  • Acknowledgment receipts: So organizations can be confident recipients understand the threat and know what to do

One System, Many Alerts

We’ve recently started working with Cistera to offer their instant communication system, and we feel acquiring this system, or one like it, should be carefully considered by your organization. Cistera already works with organizations around the globe to help keep customers, employees and students safe. Their supply call recording and emergency alert software provides a number of distinct options and benefits for many different kinds of organizations.

For schools, Cistera is particularly advantageous. Their AlertIT bell schedule, notification broadcast and emergency alert software is an integrated application that lets school administrators provide alerts such as emergency closure or other automated announcements to teachers, parents and students. These alerts can be sent via a customized, set schedule or manually, as needed, in seconds. Alerts can also go out to first responders, such as by making automated 911 calls and communicating with campus security and public safety departments during a crisis to unify action plans.

The Cistera AlertIT system lets you:

  • Lock down your school from a mobile or desk phone
  • Connect with security and first responders in an emergency
  • Deliver on-campus and parent announcements and alerts

We’re your partner in safety

A comprehensive eBook published by nonprofit research organization RAND Corporation titled The Role of Technology in Improving K-12 School Safety lists a number of best practices including the importance of ensuring existing systems work with new technologies, creating a comprehensive hazard plan, and examining possible threats. We can help. At Single Path, we work with school systems, organizations and businesses of all kinds to ensure top safety solutions are in place. Whether we’re helping determine the best options to solve a problem, training staff, enhancing an existing system or starting a new one from scratch, our Security Solutions can help any organization stay safe.

Ask us how to get started!

 

 

 

 

Let’s Get Smart: Resources and Information About Illinois Senate Bill 1

As you probably know, the passing of Illinois SB 1 creates what many feel is a school funding formula that is equitable and includes a roadmap to adequacy. At the very least, that gust of wind you’re hearing is a collective exhaling from educators along with a great sense of relief for a landmark bill that many view as a major victory for public education in Illinois.

As reported by the Illinois State Board of Education, in a letter from ISBE Chief Financial Officer Robert Wolfe, this “measure incorporates General State Aid and other line items into a new evidence-based funding (EBF) formula.” The bill releases money to districts, provides funds to the neediest districts first, and also assures no districts lose money.

Another heralded aspect of SB 1 is how it deals with CPS’s pension issues. With this bill, CPS’s normal cost of pensions moves out of the school funding formula and into the Pension Code. This means more money to CPS, and protected pension payments for teachers. Other provisions link tax credits to school performance with greater clarity, makes provisions for property tax relief, and provides guidelines for student scholarship eligibility.

Your SB 1 Information Headquarters

Below are links that shed more details on this historic agreement.

  • You’ll find the Full Text of the Bill here.
  • Download a concise and informative Fact Sheet here.
  • Full details on preliminary Base Funding by District can be found by downloading this document here.
  • A series of videos detailing the Evidence Based Funding Model can be found here or view the individual videos:

Four Major Components Overview

Adequacy Target

Base Funding Minimum

Local Capacity Target

Tier Distribution

Let Single Path Create Your Own Formula For Success

Although state-financed funding finally provides more clarity and a modicum of certainty, at least for now, that doesn’t replace the daily fiscal responsibilities schools have to use that money intelligently, and in a way that improves learning and student achievement. As highlighted in a past blog post, “EdTech: How to Invest Wisely,” smart tech investments need to take into account a lot more than the bottom line when making technology choices—such as setting goals and defining ways to measure success.

A partner like Single Path can help you reach those goals through consulting, procurement and other solutions. We work with school districts to help them set the bar higher, find those resources that will allow them to clear that bar, and do it within budget—faster, easier, and more seamless than they might imagine.

Whether we’re helping craft a sustainable technology integration plan, incorporating virtual reality devices for the classroom, or improving teacher-to-parent or teacher-to-student communications, among countless other technology challenges and solutions, Single Path can guide your district down a smart and financially sound path

Ask us how to get started!