Teachers at Alexander Graham Middle School have for years asked Principal Bob Folk to find a way to keep the school’s many exterior doors locked.
But the task proved difficult, Folk said, since many of the doors are used throughout the school day for taking students to and from recess and other outdoor activities.
“It’s a challenge, because all teachers would have to have keys for all those exterior doors, which would create another security issue in itself,” Folk said. That’s why he’s happy to see a security dream finally come true, as all the school’s exterior doors now have electronic locks that can be accessed by staff with new ID badges.
“This helps me create a perimeter around the school,” Folk said of the old, but large, school that serves 1,450 students with more than 130 staff members. Now with new locks, as well as the new district-wide Lobby Guard system in the main office, school leaders can ensure only appropriate school visitors can come into school facilities.
The new security measures are part of a district-wide effort to keep Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ students safe. Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners approved the comprehensive $19 million plan last spring – on the heels of school shootings in Chardon, Ohio, and Newtown, Conn. – giving CMS officials the go ahead to enhance security in all the district’s schools, including more controlled access to school buildings, more school cameras to better monitor school grounds and a new district-wide system to screen visitors.
The district implemented a student and staff ID badging system for all schools to start off the academic year, Susan Cody, a CMS building services project manager, said. That system was installed August 2013 before schools opened, although some schools, like Alexander Graham, are still working to get ID badges made for all students. Most district schools also now have electronic door locks, which will be accessible with staff ID badges, though some of the locks are still waiting to be activated. Cody said about 50 percent of schools have full activation of their door locks, and the district hopes to have the rest activated by the end of the month.
All schools also have the new Lobby Guard visitor management system, Cody said. That installation was completed before winter break in elementary, middle and high schools. Through that system, guests and visitors all are screened through the National Sex Offender Public Registry before given permission to leave a school’s front office.
“That system immediately screens the person coming into the school, whether a volunteer, construction worker or whoever,” Cody said.
Currently, panic buttons also are being installed in all of the schools. As of Wednesday, Jan. 8, 115 schools had full installation of those buttons, and district leaders expect 100 percent completion by Jan. 31.
“The good thing is that all of these systems are now consistent from one school to another. It’s the same across the board now,” Randy Hagler, CMS police chief, said.
Hagler said the department, which receives calls from schools on a regular basis, already has heard positive feedback with the implemented updates. And Hagler said CMS staff and parents will be even more at ease once the new camera systems are installed this spring. CMS is still securing funding for security cameras, which will mostly be installed at elementary and middle school campuses. High school campuses already have cameras installed. District leaders hope to have cameras installed at all 90 elementary schools and 22 middle schools by August, Cody said. That’s about 16 to 24 cameras per elementary school and 45 to 48 cameras per middle school.
“We have cameras at most high schools already,” Cody said. “We might have to go add a few (cameras) where there are trouble spots, but those are not on the list at this time.”
Folk said the more than 40 security cameras that will be installed at the Alexander Graham campus will wrap up any security concerns parents and staff may have previously had because of the school’s large size and multiple buildings and wings.
“I’m pleased that we are being intentional about increasing our security on school campuses and making them even more safe than they were before,” Folk said. “We have to be proactive about making sure we are serving our children and families well.”