Target 8 surveys schools on security policies

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When Target 8 wanted to examine school security more than a year after the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, we approached Rockford Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Mike Shibler. He agreed to let us check security at his schools, allowing us to send undercover testers into six schools to see how far they could wander undetected.

Inside woodtv.com: Target 8 tests security at 6 schools

But the story that resulted was about much more than the Rockford Public School District. It was about all of our schools. In fact, we never intended it to be about one specific district. We hoped to refocus everyone’s attention on school security and collect valuable information from which every school can learn.

To further that end, Target 8 reached out to more than a dozen public school districts, posing the same four security-related questions:

  1. What effect, if any, did the tragedy at Sandy Hook have on the security precautions you take on a daily basis?
  2.  Do you feel like more needs to be done to make your schools as safe as they can be?
  3.  Do you anticipate asking for any bond money in the near future to make safety improvements in your district? If you’ve already done so, what was the outcome?
  4.  Is there anything else you want to share in terms of specific measures you’ve taken to make your buildings more secure?

Below are some of the responses we received from districts across West Michigan (listed alphabetically):

Godfrey-Lee Public Schools
David Britten, Superintendent

What effect, if any, did the tragedy at Sandy Hook have on the security precautions you take on a daily basis?

We’ve emphasized greater awareness in identifying individuals who come into our schools and our staff has become more sensitive to student conversations, particularly any that might imply threats against self or others. We’ve also ensured our on-site school resource officer provided by the Wyoming Public Safety Department is visible in each school building at least once daily.

Do you feel like more needs to be done to make your schools as safe as they can be?

Yes. Continuing to work with students to identify and report any perceived or real threats to safety or security, including bullying and cyberbullying. We need additional state funding to support expansion of the school resource officer program and more routine monitoring of our electronic security system.

Do you anticipate asking for any bond money in the near future to make safety improvements in your district? If you’ve already done so, what was the outcome?

Our community approved a bond issue last spring and we used a portion of it to construct a secure main entrance at one of our elementary schools.

Is there anything else you want to share in terms of specific measures you’ve taken to make your buildings more secure?  

We have met periodically and updated/revised our threat response plan.

Grand Rapids Public Schools
John Helmholdt, Executive Director of Communications & External Affairs

What effect, if any, did the tragedy at Sandy Hook have on the security precautions you take on a daily basis?

GRPS IS A NATIONAL LEADER IN SCHOOL SAFETY AND SECURITY. LARRY JOHNSON, ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOL SAFETY AND SECURITY IS THE PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL SECURITY AND LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS.

WE ARE CONSTANTLY REVIEWING AND UPDATING SAFETY AND SECURITY PROCEDURES AND CONDUCTING ON GOING, PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND TRAINING. THIS YEAR ALONE, WE HAVE ALREADY CONDUCTED MORE THAN 23 TRAINING SESSIONS.

IN THE JANUARY 2014 EDITION OF “BUILDING DESIGN+CONSTRUCTION” MAGAZINE IN AN ARTICLE TITLED “CAN DESIGN PREVENT ANOTHER SANDY HOOK?”, GRPS WAS TOUTED AS A “MODEL OF HOW TO DO IT RIGHT” CITING THE FACT THAT ALL GRPS ADMINISTRATIVE STAFF MUST ATTEND A FULL DAY SCHOOL SAFETY LEADERSHIP ACADEMY PLUS AN EIGHT HOUR ADVANCED COURSE. ALL 40 SECURITY OFFICERS GO THROUGH 120 HOURS OF TRAINING EVERY YEAR APPROVED BY THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL SECURITY AND LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS. ALL DISTRICT ARCHITECTS AND ENGINEERS MUST ALSO BE CERTIFIED IN CRIME PREVENTION THROUGH ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGN.

ANY TIME THERE IS AN INCIDENT LIKE SANDY HOOK, IT IS USED TO BETTER INFORM OUR PRACTICES AND TO LEARN HOW TO ADDRESS THESE SITUATIONS.

Do you feel like more needs to be done to make your schools as safe as they can be?

YES, SCHOOL SAFETY MUST BE A PRIORITY IN THE NATIONAL EDUCATION AGENDA WITH EMPHASIS ON ENSURING APPROPRIATE FUNDING FOR THE STAFFING, TRAINING, TECHNOLOGY, AND SUPPORT MATERIALS NECESSARY.

Do you anticipate asking for any bond money in the near future ( or have you already) to make safety improvements in your district?

WE ARE VERY SENSITIVE ABOUT ANY CONSIDERATIONS THAT MAY REQUIRE ADDITIONAL SUPPORT FROM LOCAL TAXPAYERS. THANKS TO THE 2004 SCHOOL BOND, WE WERE ABLE TO RENOVATE OR REBUILD 11 FACILITIES AND PROVIDE MINOR UPGRADES THROUGHOUT THE DISTRICT. WE WILL CONTINUE TO EVALUATE OUR SAFETY AND SECURITY NEEDS AND HAVE DISCUSSIONS WITH THE BOARD OF EDUCATION AND OUR COMMUNITY STAKE HOLDERS ABOUT CURRENT AND FUTURE NEEDS.

Is there anything else you want to share in terms of specific measures you’ve taken to make your buildings more secure?

SEE ABOVE ABOUT THE LEADERSHIP ACADEMY, TRAINING REQUIREMENTS, ETC.

Greenville Public Schools
Pete Haines, Superintendent

What effect, if any, did the tragedy at Sandy Hook have on the security precautions you take on a daily basis?

It seems we learn something new from every one of these tragic events.  I will share that from Sandy Hook, we have re-evaluated many protocols, noting that in incidents where staff (and students) engage in problem solving and even self-defense, losses have been reduced in comparison to schools operating under a completely passive shelter mode.

Do you feel like more needs to be done to make your schools as safe as they can be?

Certainly, more can be done, but arguably no combination of security strategies could completely prevent a determined attacker.  We are currently working on access concerns at two buildings and revisiting individual classroom door security procedures.

Do you anticipate asking for any bond money in the near future to make safety improvements in your district? If you’ve already done so, what was the outcome?

Recent construction allowed us to dramatically change access to all but two of our buildings.  Because of original designs in those two buildings (from the early 1950′s), inner security doors will not resolve our concerns in a practical way.  We are seeking bids on other options, but do not expect to seek bond money and will instead fund through current operational revenues.  Other security improvements include video cameras, card-key access, and lighting.

Is there anything else you want to share in terms of specific measures you’ve taken to make your buildings more secure?

Greenville Public Schools contracts with Sgt. Gary Valentine (Ret.) and his LLC (School Com 608) for many services including tactical analysis, facility assessment and strategic planning, and supervised training and drill practice.  He is a regionally recognized expert in school security.  You should contact him:  schoolcom608@charter.net

Kalamazoo Public Schools
Alex Lee, Executive Director of Communications

What effect, if any, did the tragedy at Sandy Hook have on the security precautions you take on a daily basis?

The incident, like incidents before, had us reviewing our district and security procedures and our crisis plans.

Do you feel like more needs to be done to make your schools as safe as they can be?

Safety is, and will continue to be, an on-going process as we, and all schools, continue to adapt to a changing world.

Do you anticipate asking for any bond money in the near future to make safety improvements in your district? If you’ve already done so, what was the outcome?

We have used bond money to install additional security items including many additional cameras throughout the district.

Is there anything else you want to share in terms of specific measures you’ve taken to make your buildings more secure?

We now have police officers at both of our comprehensive high schools, and locked or directed entrances at all of our other schools.

Kentwood Public Schools
Michael Zoerhoff, Superintendent

What effect, if any, did the tragedy at Sandy Hook have on the security precautions you take on a daily basis?

The tragedy at Sandy Hook changed the way that parents and educators view school safety. In today’s world, educators must constantly evaluate and reevaluate school safety procedures and protocols.  Districts must work much more intentionally in partnership with law enforcement to ensure that Sandy Hook type scenarios are contained as much as possible.

In today’s world, the importance of student relationships cannot be over-emphasized.  We believe that parents are partners with us in this process.  Kentwood Public Schools has worked very intentionally at communicating with parents regarding the important role they play in a student’s life.  In addition, we believe that safety begins when students feel a sense of connection with multiple adults: This can be a teacher, a bus driver, a coach, a performing arts leader, etc.  As a result, we do intentional training for our teachers and staff on how to successfully engage in a personal fashion with the students in our schools.

When it comes to physical safety, here are some examples of the ways we engage to ensure that our students’ and staff members are safe:   

•    Annual building reviews specifically for safety
•    Annual table top exercises or real life scenarios/exercises with our staff
•    Annual training of building Crisis Team members and mandated lock down, evacuation, fire, and tornado drills
•    Conducting six to eight K-9 Searches per year in partnership with local law enforcement
•    The Director of Safety attends State and National Conferences to stay updated on the latest safety initiatives. The District implements these procedures when appropriate
•    Meeting monthly with our Safety Coalition Team to discuss relevant safety updates. This team consists of representatives from the Kentwood Police, Sheriff Department, Kentwood Fire Department, District Director of Safety as well as other District Administrators.
•    Annual meetings with the District TVAT Team (Threat Violence Assessment Team)
•    Development of multiple community partnerships including KSSN (Kent Schools Network) to address mental health support for families and students
•    Implementation of The Arch program which partners  with the City of Kentwood to provide after school instruction, activity, and meals until 6:00 p.m.
•    Conducting an Anti-Bullying campaign including cyber-bullying lessons to all our 5th graders
•    Ensuring safety and emergency plans are located in every classroom
•    Implementation of our staff and student lanyard and ID policy for 6-12 graders
It is equally important to realize that schools have had to rethink and reexamine how we manage risk.  Obviously, we do not publish all of our safety procedures because we do not want to give away all of the strategies that are used to maintain a safe environment.

Do you feel like more needs to be done to make your schools as safe as they can be?

Again, a key component of school safety is the creation of a positive learning environment.  We are committed to continuous improvement in this area.  We want all of our students connected positively with adult leaders so that they can achieve their potential.  This is an ongoing process of engagement.

Since we strive to be data driven, we are continually looking at what can be done enhance learning and the development of positive student-staff relationships.   Creating a culture of excellence for all our students and staff is an ongoing process; therefore we consistently evaluate and analyze new ways to keep our students and staff safe.

Do you anticipate asking for any bond money in the near future to make safety improvements in your district? If you’ve already done so, what was the outcome?

In 2003 our community passed an $85 million dollar bond issue.  Improvements from that bond included creating secure entrances areas to all our buildings.  These “security vestibules” require all visitors to enter the school office for check in.  Exterior doors were also labeled to assist in response time for law enforcement/fire/ and medical personnel.  Additionally, security cameras were purchased and we were able to implement card access systems to ensure increased accountability in our schools.

At some point, KPS will return to the community with another bond proposal and safety will naturally be part of that request.  It is premature however at this point to speculate on what that might be, particularly in light of the massive changes in technology and how that may help improve school safety in the years ahead.  We have no bond plans currently.

Is there anything else you want to share in terms of specific measures you’ve taken to make your buildings more secure?

We continue to make our schools safer by using a proactive approach to improving the school climate.  We believe that by valuing all students and being intentional about creating positive adult to student, student to student, and adult to adult relationships, we create a culture of pride and excellence for our schools.  Our staff has been trained in the “Capturing Kids Hearts Program” which models a purposeful building of relational capacity.

Our ongoing Anti-Bullying campaign also assists in providing a safe and positive learning climate. Communication between our students and our staff is paramount to a safe learning environment. The Capturing Kids Hearts program and our Anti-Bullying campaigns help promote relational capacity and communication.  Ultimately, we believe the dedication of our KPS staff to provide a caring, nurturing and positive learning environment is vital in keeping our schools safe while providing an education of excellence for all students.

Finally our focus continues to be working in partnership with our community and our families.  Buildings are safe when relationships are strong.  A twin track approach of partnering with families and partnering with law enforcement, we believe is the best way to proactively enhance safety.

Mona Shores Public Schools
Dave Peden, Superintendent

The tragedy at Sandy Hook was another of many wake-up calls for schools. The biggest concern in this case was they had many precautions in place and caused police departments to view things differently. We know more needs to be done and are constantly reviewing. We are asking for money on a special ballot February 25 on a county wide basis. This technology/security millage request will help all schools in Muskegon County. We held simulations last summer with local police departments and homeland security and are in the process of updating all procedures. We also partner with a K-9 service and have dogs on campus that can detect not only drugs but weapons. Trying to do all we can.

Northview Public Schools
Mike Paskewicz, Superintendent

My responses are not as detailed as our actual plans as that would compromise our safety and security preventions and interventions.

Also please know that we “cannot guarantee certainty” that nothing serious would happen in one of our Northview schools, buildings, or events.  Someone intent on doing harm will find a way to do harm.  This is not just a school issue, it is a call for a community response to an issue.  Who would have ever thought that someone would shoot a bullet into a drive-thru window at a fast food place because her order was wrong.

What effect, if any, did the tragedy at Sandy Hook have on the security precautions you take on a daily basis?

We constantly evaluate our safety and security plans.  We do that in conjunction with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department.  The plans are based on national best practices for safety and security.  We have increased the number of “code red” drills to increase the likelihood that staff and students have an understanding of “common language and processes.”  The tragedy at Sandy Hook is a reminder that we must be vigilant on a daily basis and aware of our surroundings.  The person who committed this tragedy was intent on doing harm and found a way.  We try to minimize the chances that it would happen here in Northview.  It also causes us to ask the community for help in protecting our students by being vigilant on a daily basis.

Do you feel like more needs to be done to make your schools as safe as they can be?

We can never feel that our safety and security plans are “good enough” to absolutely prevent an incident in our schools.  Every time we become aware of new “best practices” through our partnership with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, we upgrade our plans and train our staff and students.  The real key to making our schools safer is a community awareness and a willingness to report issues that just don’t seem right.  What we mean by that is “if you think a person is intent on doing harm, report it to authorities.  Don’t remain silent.”  Additionally, we understand that safety and security is an ongoing effort and not a one time event.

Do you anticipate asking for any bond money in the near future to make safety improvements in your district? If you’ve already done so, what was the outcome?

The Northview Community approved $43 million in bond projects during the worst economic times in Michigan history since the Great Depression.  They have also approved “Building and Sites” sinking fund millage for 1.026 mills in 2005 and 2010 (for five years).  Our Board of Education has authorized the placement of a proposal on the May 6, 2014 ballot to ask the renewal of the Building and Site 1.026 mills.

Thanks to the Building and Site millage approval, we have been able to install “buzz-in” systems at all elementary and middle schools in Northview.  This includes a camera that allows for school personnel to do a visual recognition of visitors prior to “buzzing them in.”  Additionally we have placed security cameras in and around our schools and grounds. These are monitored remotely and can be monitored with hand held devices as well.

The $43 million bond proposal resulted in a major renovation of Northview High School.  Safety and security were a major part of the design.  This includes the ability to lock down sections of the building or the entire building with the touch of a button.  Sight lines in the building allow for long distance supervision.  Once again, security cameras are mounted in and around the high school.  Once the construction is finished the main entrance, the student entrance, and the athletic entrance require visitors to check in through a foyer, receive a visitor badge, and state their business before being allowed into the school proper.  TV8 did a report on our work two weeks ago.

Is there anything else you want to share in terms of specific measures you’ve taken to make your buildings more secure?

As I stated in my opening paragraph to you – we cannot guarantee certainty that something serious won’t happen in Northview.  Someone intent on doing harm will find a way to do harm.

We have a partnership with Kent County Sheriff’s Department and Plainfield Township that provides a School Resource Office.  This fully armed, complete with Department vehicle, and trained Deputy is based at the high school but works throughout the district.  He is respected by students, families, and staff and works the majority of his time in prevention.  We have avoided serious issues because someone spoke up about something that didn’t seem right.

Reeths-Puffer Schools
Steve Edwards, Superintendent

What effect, if any, did the tragedy at Sandy Hook have on the security precautions you take on a daily basis?

The tragic and unfortunate events at Sandy Hook have reinforced the need to ensure that processes and infrastructure act as a deterrent to the fullest extent possible.  The events also underscore that someone with “intent to do harm” might not be deterred by those structures and vigilance is essential in making sure that students and adults are clear on exactly what measures should be taken if an intruder were to unlawfully gain entrance to a building.  In addition, in an attempt to increase accountability and provide full transparency, we have posted all of our emergency drill logs on our website.  They can be accessed at http://www.reeths puffer.org/downloads/rp_administration/13-14_emergency_drill_log_20131028_153422_9.pdf

Do you feel like more needs to be done to make your schools as safe as they can be?When it comes to the safety of our children we must always improve. School safety requires constant and consistent awareness and vigilance by our staff, parents, students and greater community. In addition, increased awareness of mental health issues and access to mental health services for those in our community who might have a disposition that lends itself to acts of violence.

Do you anticipate asking for any bond money in the near future to make safety improvements in your district? If you’ve already done so, what was the outcome?

On February 25, the Muskegon Area ISD will be asking voters to support a 1 mil tax increase to fund safety, security, and technology initiatives.  Go to www.reeths-puffer.org and watch the 5 minute video on how the money will be spent.  At about the 4:40 mark, I address that our first order of business will be to control access to all of our buildings, especially our largest building, the High School.  Here is a link to our information website related to the millage:  http://www.muskegonisd.org/about/millage/
Our last bond issue, passed in 2009, helped us do this in six of our seven buildings.  Our High School will be the primary emphasis if and when this millage passes.

Is there anything else you want to share in terms of specific measures you’ve taken to make your buildings more secure?

Our community generously passed a millage in 2009 that allowed us to significantly upgrade the entrance points from a security perspective in six of our seven buildings.

Wayland Union Schools
Norman L. Taylor, Superintendent

To answer your questions regarding Wayland Union Schools:

1. We believe our schools were already secure prior to Sandy Hook with our secured entrances.  We periodically review security and crisis plans with our staff, we hold regular lockdown drills with our students, plus we implemented Medical Emergency Response Teams (MERTs) in all schools with assistance from our school nurse.  Whenever there is an incident at someone else’s school, we always review that situation with our security officer and administrative team to determine if there are improvements we should make to enhance our own security measures.
2. We are in the process of installing additional security cameras across our school district.  We are also studying the possibility of having a uniformed officer in our schools to replace our plain clothes security officer.
3. No, we have no plans in the immediate future for another bond issue, however, a recent bond issue (2008) included measures for improved building security.  All of our schools except one have secured entrances that  have visitors go directly through the office to check in.  The other school has had a buzz-in/camera system installed for visitors to maintain security at that site.  We have implemented swipe card access to all exterior doors in the district and eliminated traditional exterior keys.  We have installed alarms on doors that may be left open that rings into our maintenance office.
4. To maintain a secure campus, we do not share specific security measures publicly.  We do request staff keep doors locked at all times and our security officer regularly monitors doors throughout the district.

Wayland Union Schools takes the safety and security of our students, staff, and parents very seriously.  We are always reviewing our procedures and facilities to enhance our district security.

Wyoming Public Schools
Thomas Reeder, Superintendent

What effect, if any, did the tragedy atSandy Hook have on the security precautions you take on a daily basis?

Sandy Hook was a human/child tragedy of the highest magnitude which brought great sadness and time to reflect.  We took the time to review all our resources and procedures and asked if there is something we are NOT doing or need to be doing.  Because we have so much in place related to process, we only added one more resource/step to our process.  This was to provide each site with Stop signs with notes addressing the need to stop in the office. These signs along with crowd tape directors have helped reduce the occasional person who went directly into our building.  Other items, such as badges, locked doors, cameras, etc. already were in place.

Do you feel like more needs to be done to make your schools as safe as they can be? 

Our schools were made in a different era and our office space, windows, and direct access from outside is not what we would like it to be.

Do you anticipate asking for any bond money in the near future (or have you already) to make safety improvements in your district?

We did and failed multiple times. At this time, we have no plans to return. These were already planned prior to Sandy Hook occurring.

Is there anything else you want to share in terms of specific measures you’ve taken to make your buildings more secure? 

Parents and kids are the cheapest and best measures to keeping our buildings secure by always listening, watching, and if necessary reporting suspicious activity whether it be on the school grounds or in the community.  We will continue to review our processes to see what can be improved and with our budget, update our cameras, add windows, fencing, and use other appropriate low-cost, high success measures to do everything we can do to assure our students, staff, and families are as safe as possible.

Zeeland Public Schools
Superintendent Calvin De Kuiper

What effect, if any, did the tragedy at Sandy Hook have on the security precautions you take on a daily basis?

Sandy Hook certainly re-heightened our awareness. Learning that Sandy Hook had some of the best safety systems in place emphasized that our Shelter in Place and Lockdown drills are some of the most important procedures.

Although much of this was in process, Sandy Hook accelerated our efforts. Simultaneously, Zeeland Public Schools was already planning a Futures Conference 2025 event at which over 150 staff and community members participated in goal setting for the district. When it was time to prioritize goals, safety & security was determined an absolute need. The remaining goals were then prioritized.  Zeeland’s Assistant Superintendent of Business Services immediately began work with our architects on how to best create secure entrances, similar to improvements made at New Groningen, ECC, Adams and Cityside over the last couple of years. Four of our eleven buildings are set up to require all visitors to enter through the main office before accessing the building. The construction at Cityside also involved a complete redesign of the front office placement in order to provide a more secure entrance. The next step is to rearrange entryway doors in the remaining seven buildings with a similar design. The district now has an architectural drawing complete for each building; funding options are being considered, the most likely of which is a bond referendum.

The proposed architectural changes coincide with procedural changes we have made in recent years. We already have a volunteer check- in system at every building. All visitors use a finger scan system, which includes running a background check, on all who enter the building. Our parents and visitors are appreciative of this system and everyone cooperates.

Do you feel like more needs to be done to make your schools as safe as they can be?

This is an ongoing study of best practices and looking for the best options. The answer will most likely always be “Yes”. As the world changes, we need to adapt and react while at the same time try to anticipate best practices.

Do you anticipate asking for any bond money in the near future to make safety improvements in your district? If you’ve already done so, what was the outcome?

Yes, renovations are needed at seven school buildings, as described above. Funds have not been requested specifically for this purpose.

Is there anything else you want to share in terms of specific measures you’ve taken to make your buildings more secure?

We continue to evaluate our emergency procedures on an ongoing basis and make adjustments as needed and recommended by officials. We also have increased our efforts with our patrol liaisons including a part time officer from the City of Zeeland Police Department and a full time officer from the Ottawa County Sheriff Department.

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