By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – The Tupelo School District recently received good marks from a Texas company that specializes in school security.
All of its schools earned at least at 90 percent score on a school safety audit performed by Southern Specialized Risk Options, LLC. The district hired the Allen, Texas, company to conduct a review of its grounds Nov. 1-3 and provide an analysis of its security measures.
“We wanted to have a fresh set of eyes to look at our buildings individually based on a rubric to show what we are doing well and what we can improve upon,” said Assistant Superintendent Matthew Dillon, who reported on the audit during Tuesday’s School Board work session. “The safety of our faculty, staff and students is always important to us. We are always looking at ways to improve. This is a way to get feedback.”
Steven E. Haynes, a former Navy SEAL, visited all of the district’s schools to conduct the audit. He followed a rubric that examined visitor procedures, surveillance and building interiors and exteriors, among other areas. In his report, Haynes wroteTupelo’s schools were “among the best he had ever evaluated.”
It said the school district was in the top 10 percent of the 580 school and college facilities he had evaluated over a 14-year period, based on a safe and secure security environment.
Among the recommended improvements were adding more lighting in some parking lots, upgrading alarm systems on some campuses and adding more security cameras.
The school district has taken several steps recently to improve school safety and security, especially in the wake of last December’s school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
Visitors now must ring a buzzer system before they can enter any of Tupelo’s schools. The district also added perimeter fencing to several of its campuses.
It also is installing a system to allow it to better track patrols of its security officers throughout the day. That includes electronic devices placed throughout buildings. The officers will “check in” with a digital key when they pass these points.
At Tupelo High School, buildings are now locked during the day except during class changes. Teachers can unlock the doors using their ID badges.
The report cited several of these recent improvements, as well as the guard stations that greet drivers entering the THS campus.
“He felt the buildings were well-maintained, and we had great perimeter fences around our playgrounds and areas where students are during the day,” Dillon said. “He said it was secure but also inviting and student friendly.
“…It reaffirms some of the actions we are taking, and the direction we are going. We want to continue to build on this and move forward and be proactive and take every measure we can to keep students and staff safe.”
The district’s staff also play an important role in security, Dillon said.
“They go above and beyond to provide a safe environment,” he said. “We can have all these things in place, but it is the personal touch that really makes a difference.”
The security audit resulted from a discussion during last summer’s School Board retreat when board members explored a way to better measure the district’s efforts to provide safe and secure schools. It cost about $5,000, Dillon said.