“Wonderful partners to the world of education”

County schools eye increased safety for upcoming year

Published in Jan. 14, 2015 issue

Additional cameras, as well as upgrades to existing systems, will be added to Washington County school campuses to further secure the schools and keep students safe.

The Washington County Board of Education approved monies for an additional 25 to 30 exterior cameras, as well as upgrading the existing 500 camera systems at its meeting last week. The money, $30,000 for additional cameras and $108,000 to upgrade existing cameras, was taken from the remaining safety money funds provided by the county commission. The county commission provided a total of $500,000.

The upgrades are a part of a security assessment study done with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in conjunction with the FBI and U.S. Marshal.

“They performed a systemwide security assessment for us a couple of years ago and made some recommendations,” Director of Schools Ron Dykes said.

The monies provided by the county commission helped to begin the implementation of those recommendations.

The upgrades will help bring the camera systems to a higher standard with increased camera resolution, greater ability for the camera to pan, tilt and zoom, as well as provide digital images. The surveillance capabilities, Dykes said, are also now remote.

“The patrol cars can literally log into the system, and they can see the activities in the schools remotely,” Dykes said.

The approved funds will also allow the purchase of additional cameras for the school campuses. Some of the cameras will be added to certain buildings where there are blind spots. Others will be added to longer hallways to shorten the camera views, as well as at some entrances and exits of the campuses.

“We continue to investigate and try to keep our buildings and campuses secure and our students as safe as possible,” Dykes said.

In addition to the camera systems, all Washington County schools have a priority access entry system to enter a campus. Dykes said if an individual goes to any of the WCDE buildings, schools in particular, there is a two-way communication before they can enter the building.

“You must buzz in now before you are allowed entry,” he said.

Other security enhancements include increased fencing, additional vehicle barriers, window tinting and additional security measures for the school buses. Dykes said each school bus has a GPS system, so its movement and behavior can be monitored throughout the day. All bus drivers also have cell phones in case of an emergency.

Safety will also be increased with the presence of School Resource Officers.

Dykes said by the end of the 2014-2015 school year, Washington County Schools will have 12 School Resource Officers, which are all full-time. He said in addition, they have two supervisors who often fill in when needed.

Dykes said six officers are stationed at a particular school full-time, while the other six rotate between schools.

“All schools are covered daily,” he said.

Three new SROs were implemented this school year in a staggered process. Dykes said two of the SROs have come on board already, and the third should be in place in a matter of weeks.

“That is due to the cooperation that we have with the sheriff’s office and willingness of the county commission to also understand the need to increase safety to this level,” he said. “We are very appreciative of the funding provided by the county commission, and the working relationship with the sheriff’s office is quite exceptional. They are wonderful partners to the world of education.”

Dykes said the sheriff’s office essentially stops their world when they call to provide assistance. He said the school system has also engaged in such proactive activities as armed intruder training with the sheriff’s office.

“Our faculty has gone through three sessions of that over the last year and a half,” Dykes said. “We try to increase not only vigilance, but awareness and skills to better protect our children with the worst case scenario (that could) happen.”


‘We live in a video world’

I attended a board meeting last week for Washington County Schools in Jonesborough, Tennessee. The topic of camera’s in the classroom was a topic discussed to some extent.

Cameras pulled from classrooms

Published in Herald & Tribune March 4, 2014 issue

After concerns surfaced last month about cameras being used as a new teachers’ evaluation tool in Washington County classrooms,  the process was stopped immediately, Director of Schools Ron Dykes told school board officials at a called meeting on Feb. 25.

“Teachers are under enough pressure,” Dykes said. “We wanted this to be a supported element that they would find helpful in assisting them.”

Dykes said he has no intention of re-implementing the cameras until he receives a mandate from the state or clearance of legalities that have been raised.

According to Dykes, most teachers have a formal evaluation two to four times a year, and the cameras were intitially considered a way to help in that evaluation.

“We have spent considerable amount of money in providing professional development, as well as administrator staff and curricular support personnel to work in the classroom and help our teachers improve instruction,” Dykes said.

The State of Tennessee, he said, notified the district that additional assistance would be provided in the form of cameras that takes video of the instruction during the evaluation. Dykes said the state department said it was the new wave of observations.

The funds for the cameras came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“This 30- or 50-minute video was going to be shared between evaluator and the teacher being evaluated,” he said. “These cameras were never intended to film a classroom. They were simply intended to film an observation of a teacher teaching.”

Dr. William Flanary, director of secondary education and career technical education, said he attended a single-day training session in November and brought back enough cameras for each school. The session was conducted by the manufacturer of the cameras, thereNow, and Tennessee Department of Education personnel.

The camera, Flanary said, sits on its own tripod, has two lenses and a cordless microphone that the teacher could wear. He said the two lenses fold up and can be pointed independently of each other.

“With some practice, you could get an entire classroom,” Flanary said.

The Tennessee Department of Education provides keys to the camera only to the individuals who are certified in doing an evaluation.

Board Member Phillip McClain said some of the teachers called him about their concerns. He said they were under the impression the video went to a “Cloud” and then a third party.

Board Member David Hammond agreed, saying the teachers he heard from were more worried about the videos being sent to a third party.

Dykes said the videos are encrypted and are only used for the teacher and observer.

The video is uploaded to a secure website and the only person who has access to view that video was the administrator who created it, Flanary said.

Ideally, he said, their hope was to have the teacher sit down with the administrator while watching the video. After it concluded, a conversation would take place on how to become a better teacher.

Flanary said the key holder would delete the video after the video was viewed.

Faculty meetings were already being held to explain the purpose behind the camera, as well as its functionality.

Board Member Jack Leonard said he believes the presentation of the camera program should have been rolled out in a different manner.

“Teachers are always wanting to improve their instruction,” he said. “Their evaluation is too important to their job not to improve.”

Board Member Mary Lo Silvers said as a retired teacher, she believes she would appreciate the camera program.

“I would want to know what I was doing wrong,” she said. “I would wholeheartedly support it. That is the best way in the world to show how a person could improve themselves.”

Dykes said the concept of the video was it would eventually form a database of some excellent instruction that would be used around the nation with the teachers’ permission.

He told the board and staff who  attended the meeting that “we live in a video world.” When a student steps on a bus every morning, he is on video, Dykes added.

He went on to say that a student is also on video when he or she walks into the school, walks the hall, eats in the cafeteria, goes to the gymnasium or sits in a classroom.

The reason for this is security.

Cameras, Dykes said, have been used in the classrooms in some fashion for 24 years.