“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.

Spoiled, spoiled rotten

This morning I had a few interviews set up to talk to some high school students that are participating in the program SCOPE, Student Congress on Politics and Education, in March. After watching the news last night, I learned that I had a tight timeline I had to make if I wanted to interview those students.

All Washington County schools in Tennessee were closing at 11:30 a.m. because of the snow storm that was on track for our area.

This sweet man of mine saw reports that the snow could start as early as 10-10:30 this morning and decided to drive me to my interviews. Jason’s Subaru handles snow much better than my Mitsubishi. I love how he knows when my nerves need to be calmed down, how he always looks out for me. Well, my interviews went well, story has already been turned in, it was a great way to start my day.

Good news was we got home in plenty of time before the storm started. So, Jason could have slept in, but I am thankful he was looking out for me. Interstate 26 is a nightmare when the weather is fine . . . IMG_1055

The snow started about 2-ish this afternoon and has been off and on since. We saw some really big snowflakes when we left to pick up dinner, but has since decreased in size. Fortunately this snow storm has brought some nice snowman, snowball packing snow . . .

So Jason made us a little snowman with the little snow we had this afternoon on top of my car. We went back outside just a little before midnight and it’s still there, much smaller of course.

IMG_1056Jason made sure I took a picture farther away to show just how small the snowman was. It made me laugh, made my day actually.

The memory of today was making snowballs and throwing them at each other, as well as Jason throwing them at his car.  I felt like a little kid, it was great.

I thought of our family dog Mandy. When I lived in Illinois with my family as a young girl we used to make snowballs and throw them at Mandy and she would catch them with her mouth. Oh such great memories flooded my brain tonight.

IMG_1057Since that first time we went out earlier this afternoon, a lot more snow has accumulated. Around 11:30 p.m., Jason measured about 4 1/2 inches and it’s still coming down.

IMG_1082One of our neighbors has a table in front of their porch, which provides a good visual of the amount of snow we have received so far.

IMG_1066The snow on the back porch.

Jason came back inside to get me tonight after he walked towards the decline of our driveway down the hill. He knew I would want to take pictures, which he was right. It’s such a beautiful site, especially with the snow still falling.

IMG_1067Both Jason and I commented on the silence that surrounds you in the snow. The sky also provides an incredible view, there’s kind of glow that engulfs you while filling the night sky.

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Winter Storm Pax sure made its presence known today and is expected to continue Thursday with possible snow on Friday as well.

Today was an incredible day. Jason and I spent the majority of the day, night laughing hysterically. I had tears flowing freely at one point as I could not stop the laughter.

‘Let’s do the right thing’

Last week I attended the Washington County Board of Education meeting in Jonesborough. The topic of inclement weather was discussed throughout the meeting, which included how support staff are affected when school is called off.

Snow days causing problems for county schools

Published Feb. 11, 2014 in the Herald & Tribune

With only three snow days left for the 2013-2014 school year, going to school on Saturday is one alternative under consideration.

“Which is never anyone’s favorite thing to do,” Director of Schools Ronald Dykes said of the prospect.

Other options include adding days to the end of the school year, using scheduled professional development days, or taking holidays, which may include part of spring break.

Since Washington County schools found themselves in a similar situation a few years ago, the Board of Education has since authorized Dykes to make adjustments to the calendar based upon need. State law requires 180 instructional days to complete a full school year.

In addition, Dykes said the BOE added two professional development days for the current school year to allow teachers additional preparation for the Common Core implementation.

“That increase has made us better instructors,” Dykes said.

Those two days were taken from the 13 days usually set aside for inclement weather.

Aside from school days, snow has also impacted support staff, who are not paid for lost time due to school cancellations.

During the Feb. 6 BOE meeting, Finance Committee Chair David Hammond raised an issue regarding snow days, support staff and equity. When school is called off, support staff, such as cafeteria personnel, only get paid for the hours they are actually on campus.

While unpaid for lost time, health insurance premiums are still withdrawn from payroll checks, leaving the employees with even less pay.

“They are relying on insurance. It is really what they are working for,” board member Jack Leonard said. “They couldn’t help that it snowed.”

He said since the employees could not get to school and clock in for a day of work, they end up being penalized.

“These are invaluable employees to the school system,” Leonard said, adding that the board should find a way to help them with their paycheck and insurance for those snow days.

Hammond, who became emotional during the conversations, said he knows payroll and he has done it for years.

“No one is going to tell me it is an audit concern,” he said of providing pay for those employees.

“I’ve already called the IRS local office for them to tell me it will not be.”

Hammond said the main issue is cafeteria personnel, which falls under a different funding category.

“For God’s sake we are dealing with people’s livelihood here,” Hammond said. “Let’s do the right thing.”

Director of Finance Beverly Thomas said for the past several years, they have given support staff half of the days they missed because of snow days. That does not include food service employees.

“In January, we missed eight days for snow,” she said. “We would give them four days, give them half of what they missed.”

Food service money, Thomas said, is not budgeted, but rather based on school lunch fees and reimbursements from the federal government. Although there is a fund balance, it does not consist of much money.

“(The) fund balance is going down year after year,” she said. “They wouldn’t have anything to pull from.”

Although board member Keith Ervin made a motion to pay their hourly rate, as well as their insurance, he revoked it after much heated discussion and instead made a motion to table the issue and send it back to the Finance Committee so options can be developed.

The motion passed eight to one.

Leonard said the board needs to address the issue soon.

“We need to have this set so we know what we are going to do when things like this happen,” Leonard said.

The issue will be discussed further during a called meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 25.

Search training to keep schools safe

At times it’s a little scary to learn about the new ways individuals are hiding weapons. The Washington County Department of Education has partnered with the Sheriff’s Office for the past three years to give its administrators the tools needed to do proper searches while the students are on campus.

Workshop provides search training to help keep schools safe

Published Feb. 4, 2014 in the Herald & Tribune

The Washington County Department of Education is partnering with the Sheriff’s Office to provide its staff with the correct training on how to search students.

“We feel like that is one area that schools should cover — the  proper searching of students in the school setting,” Assistant Director of Schools for Attendance and Discipline James Murphy said.

Murphy said the Supreme Court has maintained that students do not shed their constitutional rights when on a school campus.

In order to have a safe environment, however, students can be searched under reasonable suspicion, Murphy said. That is a lower standard set by the courts than what is generally accepted on the streets, he added, which requires a search warrant or probable cause.

All administrators for Washington County schools are required to have search training.

“We keep a list of new administrators coming in and we make sure, periodically, that every administrator in the school system has had this training,” Murphy said.

A two-hour search workshop was held on Jan. 23 for 38 school employees at Asbury Optional High School in Johnson City.

“Some schools have not had a change since their administrators had the course. We didn’t require them to come,” he said. “But we did ask every school to send someone.”

Some schools sent guidance counselors and teachers, Murphy added.  School Resource Officers also participated in the training.

Every Washington County school has a resource officer assigned, with some officers assigned to two or three schools, Murphy said.

During the training, participants are given a list of the type of school searches that could be done, as well as a list of forbidden searches on school campuses. Examples were then provided through role play.

Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal said the search workshop shows staff how to do a pat down safely in the different quadrants of the body, as well as how to protect themselves. He said two people should always be present during a pat down.

Another part of the training focuses on types of weapons, as well as the styles of clothing used to hide them. “We try to cover every scenario that we have run into,” Graybeal said.

In one exercise, 37 weapons, both guns and knives, were hidden for participants to find. That exercise is important, Graybeal said, because some weapons can look as innocent as a pen.

Since some of the clothing also have pouches to hide guns, he said they showed how to look for weapons in that scenario.

Murphy said there are essentially two school searches that are done.

“A good legal school search would be divided into two major areas, which is the jacket search with pockets turned out and the other search, which is rarely ever done, would be a pat down,” he said.

The most common search, Murphy said is a jacket and pocket search.

“We don’t encourage pat downs. Pat downs are not necessary unless there is a real substantial fear that the student has a weapon,” he said.

An exercise involving a backpack was also held during the workshop to show how to proceed once it is laid down on a table.

The importance of noticing the out-of-the-ordinary is also stressed. If someone shows up wearing a coat during the summer months, Graybeal said, it should be investigated.

The workshop, he said, is about showing school staff what is out there and how to look for certain items.

“It’s a good course, it’s very informative of what to look for and how to look for it,” Graybeal said. “It was a good day for us, a good informative day.”

Murphy said the workshop also included instruction on verbal judo by Dr. Ginger Christian. The technique teaches true listening, hearing what a person is saying and diffusing the anger.

“Occasionally in the school system, we have parents who are upset, sometimes upset by someone else,” Murphy said.

“We need to learn how to listen to them and address their concerns without becoming emotionally involved.”

Graybeal said the workshops are held upon the schools’ request.

He said the WCSO appreciates the opportunity to work with the Washington County schools to help them stay safe.