Security features start before you even enter the property at the new 300,000 square-foot Thomas Jefferson High School.
With the official grand opening of the new $95 million TJ set for August, district leaders are ensuring all security measures are in place.
School board members on June 25 approved the hiring of an added school police officer for the high school and approved two additional metal detector staffers.
“Safety and security is a top priority for our kids,” said Scott Milburn, assistant superintendent of secondary education.
During the last two years, the district has made major strides in updating security in its buildings.
There now is an armed police officer at all five schools, including school police officers stationed at four buildings and a Pleasant Hills school resource officer stationed at the middle school.
With the new hire, there will be two school police officers at TJ, including director of security James Modrak. The high school also will have two security guards, up from one at the old building.
“We went from being behind the curve to possibly leading the way as far as school security is concerned,” Superintendent Michael Ghilani said. “Our vision is to try and incorporate as many security best practices into our plan, at a reasonable manner.”
That means striking a balance between effective security measures and being mindful of spending, he said.
Starting late in the 2017-18 school year, the district began to pilot a metal detector program at the old TJ, just up the street from the new school.
Throughout the last school year, as many as 200 students in a day went through metal detectors and corresponding bag checks, Milburn said. The process to determine who goes through the check is randomized. On average, between 130 and 150 students went through each day.
At the new high school, drivers and anybody being dropped off will enter the building at the front, while buses will come through the back entrance.
The added metal detector positions will allow for three people to do bag checks in the front and three in the back of the school.
With the addition of the new school police officer, one school police officer will be stationed at each of the entry posts along with administrators for the morning check.
A second school police officer also was needed for the new TJ simply because of the size of the building, Milburn said. The old TJ was 190,000 square feet and the new building is 300,000 square feet.
Having an additional school police officer also allows for added assistance at the district’s other schools, if needed, Milburn said. The officers also help to educate the students.
District leaders also looked at the parameter of the school.
At the top of the hill, before you even enter the property, a security guard will be stationed to check people into the school.
“If we can keep people off of the property who shouldn’t be on it, we’re safer to begin with,” Milburn said. “We know that the best practice is to protect the perimeter of the property the best we can.”
The back driveway will have an access controlled gate that will be locked after buses enter.
If someone comes into the school for during the day, they will enter through the main entrance into a captured vestibule where longtime security guard Bob Keith will oversee their entry.
This will include going through a metal detector.
“Why not utilize his skills and the metal detector to make sure they don’t have a weapon on them?” Ghilani said. “Anyone coming into our building shouldn’t have a weapon on them anyway.”
District leaders are in the process of writing grants to help offset the costs of the security measures, Milburn said.