TPSD moves to increase safety, security

By Chris Kieffer
Daily Journal

TUPELO – The Tupelo School District has taken additional measures this summer to improve the safety and security of its schools.

That includes a plan to keep exterior doors at Tupelo High School locked during the day and give teachers electronic key cards to allow them entry into campus buildings. The district also has installed perimeter fencing at several schools and will use a system to better assess the patrols of security officers.

“It is one of our top priorities,” TPSD Assistant Superintendent Matthew Dillon said of safety and security. “We know if our faculty, staff and students don’t feel safe, they won’t perform at the highest level. It is important to us to take a proactive approach … to ensure safety and security for our faculty and staff.”

Following last December’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the district installed a buzzer system at all of its kindergarten- to eighth-grade schools that requires visitors to be buzzed-in by a receptionist before they can enter. Its efforts continued this summer.

At Tupelo High School, the system will unlock exterior doors during classroom changes but keep them locked at all other times. Teachers’ identification cards will be activated to unlock doors when placed near a sensor. Also, visitors will need to be buzzed-in before entering the administration office and the attendance office.

“The high school is a unique situation with multiple buildings,” Dillon said. “We have to come up with a system that would be in the best interest with functionality and safety at the same time.”

The district also will place electronic chips at various locations at every pre-K through 12th-grade school. As security officers complete regular campus patrols, they will use a key to tap these points as they pass them. This will log their route and allow the district to better monitor those patrols.

Fencing has been added to enclose Carver Elementary School and playgrounds at Lawndale and Parkway schools. The district also has replaced some damaged fencing and installed a new section at Pierce Street Elementary School.

The school district’s efforts have been aided by the insight of school board member Kenneth Wheeler, who serves as director of security services for North Mississippi Medical Center.

Wheeler said Dillon, TPSD facilities director Julie Hinds and TPSD security director Terry Hatch have consulted with him a few times as they’ve devised their plans. He said he does not want to overstep his role as a school board member but that he is glad to help when asked.

“As a board member, you are not supposed to get involved with the day-to-day operations of the school district,” he said. “But it makes good common sense to utilize the experience of board members, if they have that expertise.

“I feel like they are working on great intermediate plans, and the overall plan is to address any identified weaknesses and vulnerabilities.”

chris.kieffer@journalinc.com