Henderson resident Madison Peck spent two weeks hospitalized after catching pneumonia because her school’s heating system failed for days during winter two years ago.
Madison’s mom, Terri Peck, took the issue to Clark County School District Trustee Lorraine Alderman, who presented it to Superintendent Dwight Jones. Two years later, 14-year-old Madison has a new school to go to and her mom does not have to worry anymore.
“I love that I walk in and feel it’s a safe place for Madi,” Peck said. “You know when you drop your child off everything is going to be taken care of.”
The John F. Miller School, 3840 Pecos-McLeod Interconnect, opened Feb. 20 and replaced the old Miller School at 1905 Atlantic St. Madison, who has a significant cognitive impairment, cut the ribbon at the grand opening.
Miller serves about 125 of the district’s most severely disabled and medically fragile students ages 3 to 21.
Without Madison’s incident, principal Jean Trudell said she does not think the new school would have been built. The old school was built in 1960 as a traditional elementary school and was converted to a special-needs campus about 25 years ago.
And it had its problems.
Peck said it “felt old, dilapidated” and was in “no condition for any child to be attending.”
Trudell, who has been the principal at Miller for 15 years, said it was common for the air-conditioning and heating systems to fail and for there to be power outages.
“We had to unplug things to plug others in,” she said. “We have students on oxygen concentrators that require electricity. If (power) went down, it was life-threatening for some students.”
Its outdoor campus design was bad for students because most of them have respiratory issues and some have seizure disorders that can be brought on by extreme heat.
“The weather really played a significant part of their health status,” Trudell said. “... We really wanted to plan and design this building to make it as comfortable for students as we possibly could.
“One of my real goals was to make sure this building would stand the test of time and decades from now be an adequate, good facility for students with the significant needs ours have.”
The new school solves any issues there might have been, Trudell said.
It is a climate-controlled indoor campus with access to outdoor courtyards through automatic sliding doors. It has extra-wide hallways and doors throughout the building. The hallway walls are textured differently so blind students can use their hands to feel what part of the building they are in.
It also has the district’s largest health office, with 10 full-time nurses who perform more than 300 medical procedures daily. It has a library; the old school did not. Classrooms have swings for physical therapy and new technology such as interactive “smartboards” that allow students to communicate, as all of the students are nonverbal.
The average per-pupil expenditure in the school district was $7,404 during the 2010-11 school year, according to nevadareportcard.com. At the Miller School, that number was $39,288. The school cost $18 million to build and was paid for with some of the last funds from a 1998 voter-approved bond.
Primary teacher Irene Wells said she was seriously considering retiring but decided against it when she saw the new school.
“I’m so privileged to be in this facility,” Wells said. “I even get chills now walking through the door. ... It’s like being in a five-star hotel.”
Wells has taught in the district since 1971 and at Miller since 1991. She has covered the walls of her new classroom with photos of her students’ accomplishments. There is a photo of a boy washing his hands by himself and another of a girl practicing sitting and standing. In her Jan. 22 class, Wells sang the “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands” song, and a girl clapped her hands.
“I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s huge,’ ” Wells said. “I’m just enjoying this so much. It’s just those little things you don’t think about.”
Teaching at Miller is tough. Teachers and their assistants are responsible for feeding and changing diapers, and every week the school calls 911 and kids are rushed to a hospital.
Trudell said there is a low turnover rate because only those who are passionate come to teach there –– teachers such as Wells, who called it “a dream job.”
“These kids every day teach me about life and how good I have it,” she said. “And they never give up. ... They’re wonderful children. I love going to work every single day. How many people can say that?”
Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5524.