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Security a key factor at new Quaker Valley Middle School

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Along with new classroom features and technology, Quaker Valley School District's $26.5 million middle school remodeling project included many security upgrades designed to keep children and adults safe, administrators said.

But with increased security measures comes a balancing act, Director of Administrative Services Joseph Marrone said.

“How much do you want to put into it until you become a Fort Knox or a prison, but how safe are the kids and employees?” Marrone said.

Security upgrades for the Sewickley middle school were approved long before a suspected gunman last month killed 20 children and six adults in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.

The shooting prompted Quaker Valley board member Danielle Burnette to initiate discussions of safety upgrades across the district, she said.

Burnette said she is “concerned about our student's safety in light of recent events, and I know it's probably heavy on a lot of parent's hearts.”

School leaders expect to present new safety material as early as next month to board members, Superintendent Joseph Clapper said.

“There's been a lot of things on safety that have been going on over the last year and a half,” he said. “We're feeling really comfortable where we are with the plans.”

With new procedures, new alarms, more cameras and safer doors, learning how to use all of the security measures is a daunting task, Marrone said.

While discussing security features with the Sewickley Herald last week inside the middle school, six parents freely walked through the building — one said main office workers let him through without taking his name, another entered through a backdoor after a teacher let the parent in.

“The teacher must have just said, ‘Oh, someone's at the door, I'll just let them in,' and we're not supposed to,” Marrone said.

Four others were in a hallway near the school's gymnasium.

Marrone led parents to exits and asked for one parent to be escorted to the main office.

Even before students were welcomed into the building Jan. 7, school employees began learning how new safety procedures would be used, Marrone said.

“We have a lot of systems we're growing into instead of growing out of,” he said.

“It's just like anything else — there's a lot there,” Marrone said. “It's not a once and done. It's ongoing.”

Among the new features include the ability to deactivate an employee's ID if they do not swipe the card before leaving for the day, Marrone said.

Air quality controls also allow for administrators to limit air intake should a chemical spill occur nearby, he said. In classrooms, flipchart material was created to offer school employees a quick guide for a variety of emergencies — from bomb threats to a child being injured.

Despite the upgrades, Marrone said administrators received some “flak” for some of the security measures taken in the new building.

“It's normal,” he said.

School board member David Pusateri said he also wants to see substitute teachers — daily and long term — receive information to be prepared in the event of an emergency.

“We need to take a harder look at what we're doing with our substitutes,” he said. “How much do the substitutes know what the procedure is?”

Bobby Cherry is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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