KIDS FIRST at New Dover Primary

August 1, 2009 | By More

Story by Dianne Edwards

Most parents know him as the principal who opens car doors for his students in the drop off line each morning, cup of coffee in hand. However, as the responsibilities of Dover Primary principal Donny Forehand grew these past two years, he eventually turned over that job to a parent volunteer.

This fall, Mr. Forehand and his staff will open new doors to their students as approximately 550 children – kindergarten through fourth grade – will walk through the color-coded halls of the newly-finished Dover Primary School located off East Camp St. (Hwy. 27) northeast of Dover.

All drop-offs at the new school with occur at the back of the building. Pickups will be from the front and the side.

With a millage issue that took only one attempt to pass, Dover elementary-aged students will now gather under one roof with a single secure entrance, rather than as many as eight buildings as they have in the past.

“With students moving between eight buildings and having uncontrolled entrances and exits, our campus was a security nightmare,” stressed Forehand. “We had kids in and out of the weather, standing in line, wasting precious teaching time.”

“We lost so much teaching time due to the students being shuffled from classroom to classroom, building to building,” said Forehand.

“We are so fortunate to have the support of parents and the community to have this new building. With this facility, we have all of our students under one roof, in classrooms that are built to meet their needs, to prepare all students for the future.”

He credits previous Dover School superintendent Dan Lovelady with many of the outstanding features of the new facility.

“I tip my hat to him. He was involved in the initial part of the design and he took our advice on layout, storage, suggestions for the new school. So many of the features we were able to include were a result of visits to other new schools in the state,” Forehand said.

Gesturing toward bi-fold doors concealing file cabinet storage, Forehand mentions this idea originated from Conway Middle School.

“It’s wonderful. When we aren’t using the storage area, we simply close the doors to conceal what was once an unsightly work area.”

Forehand’s office sits adjacent to the reception area.

“I’m very excited about the size and the storage that we all have here,” he added. “In our other building, my work was spread over three locations, even utilizing the conference room for stacks of papers.”

He visualizes the desk and side storage that will be in place once the furniture arrives. A large walk-in storage closet with compartmentalized shelving will be a huge benefit for keeping the busy, energetic principal organized. A side wall features a two-way mirror allowing the principal to easily view students who may be spending time under supervision.

Other elements from new pilot schools the building committee toured in Northwest Arkansas were incorporated in the new school. Where ever possible, the newest ideas in design and technology were implemented.

A nurse’s station located behind the main office will offer space for a full-time nurse, three beds and privacy curtains, helping to isolate ill students.

Increased storage is visible in every area, including every classroom, the teacher’s work rooms and lounge. While the shelves are empty just weeks before the start of the school year, Principal Forehand is excited about the prospect of filling the school with students and teachers. The shelves will fill quickly, as well.

Dover Primary art instructor Katie Crow will paint a mural in the main teacher’s work area, depicting a French Café complete with pedestal tables for those brief moments when teachers can enjoy some down time. Smaller workrooms are available to the teachers and located on each wing.

Motion detectors activating overhead lights are located in most rooms, making them more energy efficient. The flooring was another concern. Plans included a honed, polished “diamond finish” concrete flooring.

“That feature alone will save the district thousands of dollars each year, not having to clean or replace carpeting,” praised Forehand.

“Being the ‘Dover Pirates,’ we wanted to incorporate a nautical theme in our new school,” included Forehand.

Working with the architect during the design phase, Forehand noted the use of natural lighting through the use of overhead skylights. The lighthouse concept, with a two-story open center rising above the library and computer lab, anchors the central base of the school.

The basic structure of the school resembles a dragonfly, with the library and computer lab forming the center of the body. Wings for each grade flow gracefully from the center, ‘wings of the dragonfly,’ he explained.

Librarian Janice Jones hoists a colorful kite, a purchase from the 10,000 Villages at the Heifer Project, that will serve as the theme and color focus of the new library and lab. She anticipates the displays and components that will be used to capture the imagination of the children using the new facilities. Plans are to decorate with items from all around the world to stimulate and inspire the students “so they can see beyond the walls of a small school and realize what is out in the world,” she explained.

A restroom facility located within the library will keep students in the classroom and focused on their studies, added Forehand.

“This library will never ‘close,’ but will be kept in use throughout the day, with computer labs and reading rooms separate for instruction, as well as using the center for parent and student activities after school,” he said.

“We’ve probably gained 30-40 minutes of instruction time just due to the layout of this wonderful building,” Forehand added.

A self-contained classroom for use by special needs students is another area of huge pride for Forehand. Himself the parent of a special needs child, Heath, who is challenged by Down’s Syndrome, he understands firsthand the benefits this new area will offer. The rooms will serve students in grades K-12.

“When I was in high school, I helped out in the special education classroom. There I felt the kids were often pushed to the side, not receiving the services they really needed,” Forehand said.

This area features a washer and dryer – ‘because cleanliness is next to Godliness’ believes Forehand – as well as ample room for physical therapy, occupational therapy and a playroom. A padded therapy area will allow wheel- chair-bound students and those with specific physical limitations to exercise and play without fear of injury.

While the special needs area is not uncommon in most schools, one of this caliber is exceptional. Forehand said that Dover’s reputation as being a good provider for special needs students made the addition of this area a natural plus for the district.

Another designated study area – an academic self-contained classroom – will provide a place for ten students to learn survival skills, working on reading and math at their specific levels. A multipurpose room will contain shelves saved from the former Dover school library and be used as a literacy and resource room.

Primary colors direct student to their particular hallways. Kindergarten is yellow, first grade is blue, green is second and third grade, and red is third and fourth.

“It’s very ‘kid-friendly,’” he added.

Each hallway (except for kindergarten rooms which have restrooms in each classroom) features restroom facilities accessed from the hall. A different twist, moving the hand-washing stations to the outside of the restrooms, helps keep ‘horse- play’ at bay, said Forehand.

“I’d venture to say that 85-90 percent of my discipline issues arise from kids horsing around at the sinks in the bathroom,” said Forehand. “By moving this to the outside, visible from the hallway, one teacher can supervise all the students as they wash their hands, thus cutting down on the opportunity for the kids to play at the sinks.”

The restroom areas will be used as storm safe rooms when needed, added Forehand.

Classrooms will each receive a PolyVision interactive board, a brand that’s new to the market but similar to ‘smart boards.’ Most rooms will receive mounted LCD projectors, a document projection camera known as ‘ELMO’ – the modern-day version of an overhead projector.

A ‘transition’ Discovery classroom will be situated on one hallway, allowing an alternative learning environment for those not quite ready to progress into the first grade.

Forehand is especially proud of the new separate art room and music room where the students will receive one 40-minute class period each week of instruction. The art room includes a separate room for a pottery kiln and lots of storage. The music room, complete with risers and ample storage, features a door leading to a ramp with access to the school’s new staging area.

Forehand is excited about the possibilities the staging area, gym and cafeteria will offer to the 500-plus students and their families. He visualizes lots of events to utilize the facility.

The kitchen is state-of-the-art including two serving lines, a walk-in freezer, a double steamer for fresh vegetable preparation, in- floor drainage, stationary basting pans and three convection ovens. Dry storage racks encircle the walls of the large storage closet and offer easy visibility for the kitchen staff. Forehand says that five or six workers will be needed to work the kitchen area.

While the school office is located left of the front entrance, a “Parent Hub/Counseling area” is located to right of the main entrance. The area will provide a location for visitors to gather, house a conference room and provide an interactive area for preschool kids visiting with their parents. Two counselors will work from offices in the hub, one of which splits her job between counseling and other district responsibilities.

Forehand hopes that one day soon the office will house a Parent Center Coordinator, a position dissolved last year by the current superintendent, he said.

“I hope that we can get that position back,” explained Forehand. “We need someone to work with the parents and PTO to coordinate activities, events and fundraising activities. Anytime you see a successful, large school, you have someone to coordinate between the parents and the school. It’s a huge responsibility, and honestly, last year – without a parent center coordinator – our PTO was not as actively involved,” said Forehand.

Forehead said all schools struggle with openness to the public.

“We want to be open to the public, offer hospitality, a warm feeling that personifies our school and invites conversation and interaction between the parents and the staff,” he urged

And while Forehand encourages an open dialogue, he knows the safety of his students and staff is paramount – safety issues are much easier to control in the new construction.

The new building features only one public access door, a single entryway that opens directly to the school office. The main doors of the building, all outside access doors – even each individual classroom – is key- coded for secure access.

One of the first persons that visitors will see upon entry into the office is Beth Donnell, a woman that Forehand describes as ‘a saint.’

“She’s been my assistant for the past eight years,” recalled Forehand. “And she’s a perfectionist. She isn’t happy until things are ‘done right.’ She juggles so much for us. And in this new building, she’ll have her own office for the very first time,” added Forehand proudly.

When the Dover native assumed the principal’s helm at age 29, he was one of the youngest administrators placed in that position.

The first of five siblings to attend and complete college, Forehand grew up doing things for others, learning from his parents. Mother Barbara was a stay-at- home mom; Father Clyde was a veteran of WWII working hard as a concrete finisher, wanting his children to complete their education through college – “even bribing us with a car if we would graduate,” recalled Forehand.

Dynamic, energetic Donny Forehand is driven. From the time he assisted with special needs students while a high school student himself, Forehand wanted to be a teacher. He admits that his own path to education was littered with difficulties.

“I struggled so much with school, I didn’t apply myself. I was quiet and reserved, and I didn’t feel like a very smart kid,” admitted Forehand, who also explained that he is Attention Deficit.

Doors opened for Forehand when, at age 12, he joined the Dover 4H program. It was there he began to blossom.

“Even though I struggled academically, I found my gift in public speaking. I was very articulate so I began competing in public speaking at state and national 4H competitions,” Forehand recalled.

The program gave Forehand a voice and offered him the opportunity to travel. Trips carried him to Louisiana, Colorado, Washington D.C.

“I’d never really been anywhere up to then; our family vacation each year was loading up and going to Piney Bay. It opened my eyes to other places. It was a huge gift,” Forehand said.

One teacher really can make a difference, believes Forehand. For him, it was a college professor who urged him to drop out of a college class and quit as he struggled with freshman studies.

“He basically told me I didn’t have what it took to be in college and that I should drop out,” recalled Forehand. “I was so angry, but it spurred me on to study even harder than I already had been. The next test, I made a B. It was a turning point in my life.”

He was the only sibling to receive a car, earning a bachelor’s degree in education with focus on the mildly handicapped.

After working for a half-year in Paris, Ark., and several years in the self-contained classrooms at Gardner Junior High, he began focusing on the curriculum and revamping for the program, earning the respect and support of Dr. Dan Raines, the principal of Gardner at the time.

“I have enormous respect for Dr. Raines. He was and is so sharp. He was so receptive to my suggestions for the program,” Forehand acknowledged.

But his goals included returning to Dover Schools and obtaining a principal’s position before he was 30. He realized that in the classroom he could affect 25- 30 kids a year, but as principal, he could serve as a positive influence on 300-500 kids every day.

The now-veteran principal graciously acknowledged the acceptance of the Dover staff, most of whom were older than he when he began as principal.

“While I hadn’t spent years in the classroom as most traditional principals have done, they were wonderfully supportive of me and of what I wanted to accomplish,” he added.

The “door opening” for students was a direct result as his first day as principal. He describes it as another defining moment in his life.

“I remember asking the teachers, ‘where do I stand?’ They suggested the front parking lot, and from there, I began opening the doors for the car riders as they were dropped off each morning,” he remembered.

That was 14 years and three different campus buildings ago.

Donny Forehand – the student who was told to ‘drop out’ — went on to earn his master’s degree in instructional leadership from UCA in 1994. He works energetically each and every day to show students that they are special and that they matter.

“Kids First, Parents Second, Teachers Next and then me” – It’s the motto by which Donny Forehand will lead the new Dover Primary School into the future.

 

 

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