School security enhancements considered at Homer-Center
Like thousands of other school districts throughout the nation, Homer-Center is looking at ways to beef up its security in the wake of last month's mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
While hesitant to divulge many specifics at last Thursday's school board meeting, superintendent Charles Koren said administrators had already begun the process of making the district's schools safer.
“We've identified our areas that we feel are not as secure as we would like,” Koren said. “We have had walking tours with assistance through the state police and vendors who provide (security) products... We're really focusing on hardening our entrances.”
Physical upgrades to the buildings' security accoutrements comprise one element of the district's plan, but procedural refinements and enhanced police presence are also key.
“One item is the implementation of more practice with employees and students,” Koren said. “(We need) to ensure that our autocaller is also working. That seems like a very simple thing, but we really have not utilized that piece of technology in the past.”
The autocaller, Koren said, allows administrators to relay messages to parents throughout the district and could help minimize confusion during school safety drills by alerting parents before students learn of the drill. An official message from the district in that situation, Koren said, would help alleviate parental concern that may arise from students sending a text messages mentioning a lockdown without clarifying that it was only a drill.
Koren also said state police, of their own initiative, have been increasingly visible on school grounds.
“We have had a much higher presence by state troopers every day since Dec. 14,” he said. “That is observable and it is also a reflection of what they wish to do.”
“The day we had the vendors and we were touring the high school checking everything... (a state trooper) just happened to stop, and he came along for the tour” Koren said. “The knowledge and the familiarity of the troopers with our facilities is a benefit to everybody: A benefit to them, benefit to us, benefit to the kids, benefit to all of our residents.”
Elementary principal Michael Stofa said his school's staff practiced emergency lockdown protocols during an in-service day on Jan. 21.
“The teachers were directed in various trainings and I had a training first thing in the morning, it was a mock lockdown, only with teachers,” Stofa said. “I wanted the teachers to be aware of responsibilities and what the expectations are for them.”
Stofa said administrators walked through the building “pounding on doors,” and teachers had been instructed not to open their doors in any situation during the drill.
“After the drill was over, we had a debriefing and there was a lot of concern about the unknown, which is virtually impossible to answer in a lockdown situation,” Stofa said. “However, we are in a state of being very proactive with this situation.”
Koren said an itemized and prioritized list of suggested security upgrades and cost estimates should be ready for presentation at the board's next meeting.
“Each district has a different starting point,” Koren said. “We know what our starting point is. We have some good things, we have some things we can improve. In all reality, I don't want to get into real hard detail, because ... I don't want all of the public to know what some of the security items are.”
The list, Koren said, will be shared internally for security reasons.
Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or firstname.lastname@example.org.