New Jefferson Elementary School brings innovation, security to students' first day

·3 min read
The new Jefferson Elementary School in Henderson, Ky., Wednesday evening, Aug. 3, 2022.
The new Jefferson Elementary School in Henderson, Ky., Wednesday evening, Aug. 3, 2022.

HENDERSON, Ky. – As school starts back in Henderson County, hundreds of elementary students will get to begin the academic year in a new facility.

After more than two years of planning and $21 million in construction, Jefferson Elementary School opens its doors to students Wednesday morning in its new building at 800 S. Alves St., behind the South Middle School football field.

The 57,250-square-foot school incorporates modern technology at every corner, and can accommodate up to 400 students.

More:Future of Henderson electric utility includes renewables, new power plant

A spacious library and media center serves as the heart of the school, and is surrounded by 18 classrooms, an art/music room, a computer lab and four resource rooms. Each room is painted a different, playful color and is equipped with an overhead sound system and advanced security features.

“Everyone deserves to work in a building like this, and … to learn in a building like this,” said Jefferson Principal Gwen Courtney. “I’ve worked at four different school buildings, and I didn’t even know that this was possible.”

Kindergarten teacher Rachel O’Neal, left, gives new student Milah Lewis, center, a gift during an open house for the new Jefferson Elementary School in Henderson, Ky., Wednesday evening, Aug. 3, 2022.
Kindergarten teacher Rachel O’Neal, left, gives new student Milah Lewis, center, a gift during an open house for the new Jefferson Elementary School in Henderson, Ky., Wednesday evening, Aug. 3, 2022.

According to Megan Mortis, a spokesperson for Henderson County Schools, the building, which is lined with large windows, is energy efficient and uses a geothermal HVAC system.

“It’s open and has natural light. It’s not an institutional feel,” said Courtney.

Courtney, who has been principal at Jefferson Elementary since early 2020, says she is excited about the building and sees it as an opportunity to engage students, while also teaching them the value of taking care of new things.

Henderson history:Boat club in Atkinson Park was flying high in 1947

“I’m excited for the future, but I also respect the past,” said Courtney. “… Old things are under-appreciated, but in order to stay looking new, you’ve got to treat it well. And that’s a good skill to teach kids.”

The facility replaces the 58-year-old Jefferson Elementary on South Green Street, which was evaluated in 2011 and found to be in poor condition.

“Jefferson Elementary School has been at the top of the construction priority list since 2014,” said Mortis.

Mortis listed a plethora of needs burdening the old building, including ADA accessibility and code improvements, heating and air conditioning repair or replacements, fire protection and alarm system upgrades, security enhancements and a roof replacement, among others.

The new facility is complete with all the upgrades the old one lacked, and more.

Seven-year-old Greyson Lawalin hugs the jaguar mascot during an open house for the new Jefferson Elementary School in Henderson, Ky., Wednesday evening, Aug. 3, 2022.
Seven-year-old Greyson Lawalin hugs the jaguar mascot during an open house for the new Jefferson Elementary School in Henderson, Ky., Wednesday evening, Aug. 3, 2022.

Earlier this summer, Jefferson Elementary was accepted as a NOAA Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador for its installation of a FEMA tornado safe room and corridor – one of the first of its kind in Kentucky.

The storm shelter is reinforced with rebar in the walls and ceilings, has metal shutters that cover each window and double steel doors at each end of the corridor. Mortis says the room is large enough to protect every teacher and student in the building.

The school is also equipped with advanced security features such as doors that lock from the inside and panic buttons in each classroom in case of emergency.

More:Amy Grant to headline Henderson Area Arts Alliance's 28th season

“The building does not make you, but it does help,” said Courtney.

In addition to structural improvements, Courtney says she’s excited to collaborate with teachers to develop new programs at Jefferson Elementary. Because of the school’s proximity to South Middle School, Courtney hopes to implement a mentor program with the older students.

She said the school also plans to start a robotics team, which would be its first.

Ten-year-old Hera Ludwig picks out her seat in Shawna Guill’s fourth-grade class during an open house for the new Jefferson Elementary School in Henderson, Ky., Wednesday evening, Aug. 3, 2022.
Ten-year-old Hera Ludwig picks out her seat in Shawna Guill’s fourth-grade class during an open house for the new Jefferson Elementary School in Henderson, Ky., Wednesday evening, Aug. 3, 2022.

“This building stands for possibilities and opportunities for kids. We’re really excited because we like to think of ourselves as innovators here, and we’re never afraid to try new things. We do have a lot of kids (from) all different demographics, all different experiences, so you can’t do the same thing that you’ve been doing for five to ten years,” said Courtney.

“So, we like to say that we’re not afraid to change anything, and I feel like this building speaks to that.”

Contact Lauren Craddock at lauren.craddock@courierpress.com or on Twitter @LaurenECraddock

This article originally appeared on Henderson Gleaner: Jefferson elementary school brings innovation security to Henderson