School and student safety were once again on the minds of members of the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees at its meeting held at the Kershaw County School District (KCSD) office Tuesday evening. Board members who attended the recent S.C. School Boards Association’s (SCSBA) annual conference said the theme of the event was “Safety in Our Schools.” KCSD Superintendent Dr. Shane Robbins also gave board members a “safety update” on a K-12 Standard Response Protocol being incorporated into all the county’s schools.
Board Vice-Chair Shirley Halley gave board members a report on the SCSBA conference, including sessions she attended on “physical and psychological safety” of students.
“The (presenters) talked about lockdowns, weather drills, school resource officers,” Halley said. “For psychological safety, they talked about bullying prevention, social skills instruction, mental health support and providing individual counseling.”
Halley said a session about Richland School District Two’s approach to school safety also addressed the need to create safe environments for students and teachers “but not to the point where they start looking like prisons … the Richland school district uses fulltime security officers in all of their schools. There are policies and procedures for signing in; all classroom doors are locked and they conduct regular drills.”
Trustee Ron Blackmon said he also attended a breakout session on school safety at the annual conference.
“One of the things they talked about was that you can talk about school safety, but all of these things the state wants us to do take money,” Blackmon said.
He said presenters also emphasized the need for safety drills, enforcement of policies, having good communication and getting information about security policies out to the public.
“They also talked about metal detectors in our schools and the importance of having someone who actually knows how to operate one. You have to be trained on how to use them or they’re useless,” Blackmon said.
After hearing what other school districts around the state are doing, Blackmon said he thinks Kershaw County is heading in the right direction.
“We’ve already implemented some of the same things Greenville is doing and that tells me we moving in the right direction,” he said. “Safety is a growing concern in all our school districts throughout the state.”
In his report to the board, Robbins also addressed school safety, updating the board on ongoing efforts to standardize and upgrade security throughout the district.
“You would think that student achievement is the number one goal in a school district, but unfortunately in today’s environment, it’s not,” he said. “Safety is the number one goal, so we are working really hard on standardizing our processes. You’ve heard us talk about the ‘iloveyouguys.org’ standard response protocol (SRP), which is what we’re implementing right now.”
According to its website, Ellen and John-Michael Keyes started the I Love You Guys Foundation in 2006 after a school shooting that took the life of their daughter, Emily. It is “committed to school and community safety, and family reunification following a crisis.” It says its programs have been implemented in more than 25,000 schools, agencies and organizations across the country and in Canada.
The foundation’s SRP is being adopted by emergency managers, law enforcement, school and district administrators and emergency medical services and is based not on individual scenarios, but on the response to any given situation. A critical ingredient in the safe school recipe is the uniform classroom response to any incident, whether its weather events, fires, accidents, intruders or other threats, Robbins said. The protocol is simplified into four specific responses based on the incident: lockout, lockdown, evacuate or shelter.
Robbins said the district is doing all it can to create safe environments at every school by putting certain protocols in place.
“It’s been a much slower process than I’d hoped for,” Robbins acknowledged, however. “Part of that has been vendor response on some of the work we need done so that we can actually put some of these protocols into place.”
As it stands now, he said, staff IDs have been distributed to Camden, Jackson, Lugoff, and Wateree elementary schools and the district office.
“Every employee in those places has an ID to wear. Eventually, this ID will replace their key to get them into the building so that we can restrict access and minimize all the different keys that are floating around out there,” Robbins said.
Posters of the SRP have been printed and will be hung in classrooms, he said.
“The camera and access control quotes have been what we’ve really struggled with, just trying to get vendors to give us quotes,” Robbins added. “Once we get those, we’ll pull the trigger on moving forward.”
He noted the district’s safety team is meeting every two weeks to see how much progress is being made.
“My goal all along (had) been to have all of this in place by spring break. That might be too aggressive now, because the quotes have come back so slow,” he said.
Robbins said that during the next 30 days, all of the staff IDs will be distributed and all of the SRP posters will be hung in classrooms.
“We’ve also posted the position for safety manager for the next school year,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll have a good batch of people to respond and we can start the interview process for that.”
Robbins said the district is utilizing a $250,000 state grant to pay for the security upgrades.
Also Tuesday, trustees heard an update on an expansion of the district’s 4K program from a half day to a full day from KCSD Executive Director for K-12 Instructional Support Dr. Alisa Taylor and Early Childhood Coordinator Pam Whitehead. Taylor said 64 percent of the district’s youngsters tested “not ready” for kindergarten this year.
“Those 5-year-olds often stay behind throughout their whole educational career,” she said. “That is one of the main reasons Dr. Robbins asked us to work on this 4K initiative for our district.”
Taylor said research shows children who attend early childhood programs are more likely to graduate from high school and college than those who do not.
“They’re less likely to need special education; they’re less likely to fail or repeat a grade or have discipline problems. In adulthood, they’re more likely to become high income earners,” she said.
Robbins said another community benefit is that having a quality 4K program in the schools “lowers the cost of quality childcare for our parents.”
Whitehead said that as of March 4, the district began offering all-day 4K in six locations. She thanked the retired teachers and others who have helped make the transition to a full day.
“On Feb. 20, we held a kindergarten roundup and the response from the community has been overwhelming,” Whitehead said. “As of today, 277 children have registered for 4K in our district next year and we’re adding to that number every day.”
She said the district would need to hire at least five new teachers for the 4K program next year.
• Robbins clarified the district’s policy on board members volunteering at schools. He said the policy doesn’t mean that “as board members you can’t volunteer to take up tickets, read to students or work at concession stands. Those are all fine.” Robbins said the policy does not allow board members to volunteer for a “recognized position. For example, you can’t be a volunteer coach on the staff; your policy does not permit that because what it does is flip you from being at the top of the food chain to then reporting to those people who report to you.”
• Robbins gave an update on the “modern teacher/digital convergence” initiative the district is implementing.
“This is a fundamental shift from the traditional classroom to a more modern classroom,” he said. The instructional model incorporates digital technology in the classroom using a modern and more internet-based curriculum.
• Trustees approved the administration’s recommendation to charge a rental fee of $6,000 to Lugoff First Baptist Church for the use of Blaney Elementary School July 8-12 for a day camp, and to not waive the fee for Mid-Carolina Credit Union’s use of Lugoff-Elgin High on March 18 for its annual credit union members meeting.
• Trustees also met in executive session to discuss Robbins’ interim evaluation, but took no action when they returned from behind closed doors.