Copper Area News
Two area school districts have been awarded grant money for projects to improve the safety and security of their schools from the Arizona Department of Education (ADE).
The Superior Unified School District received the larger of the two grants of $98,550 to make major security upgrades at John F. Kennedy Elementary School and Superior Junior/Senior High School. The Oracle Elementary School District received a $9,889 grant to upgrade student security in its schools.
Superior and Oracle were only two of 10 school districts statewide to receive ADE grants under a one-time revenue allocation in the Arizona state budget for the current fiscal year. The 10 districts were selected from among 187 applications as having both the most pressing needs and the best planning for achieving their security goals. The grant money was limited to the purchase and installation of security hardware.
With its grant money, Superior will install campus-wide video surveillance systems in both its schools and an interlocking door system at its junior/senior high school. Oracle Elementary will upgrade the locks on classroom doors to better protect students from imminent threats posed by outsiders.
“I’m very excited about the security improvement projects made possible by the ADE grant,” said Patrick O’Donnell, superintendent of Superior Unified. “Improving security at our schools has been a priority since I arrived in Superior last July,” he said. “The surveillance system consisting of high-definition television cameras and monitors will provide a view of everything happening inside and outside the schools, including the playgrounds. We’ll be able to catch any threat to student and teacher safety and act on it immediately,” he said.
O’Donnell praised Arlynn Godinez, director of curriculum and programming, for doing the hard work that resulting in the district receiving the grant.
“Without Godinez’s efforts, the security improvements would not be happening at this time,” he noted.
“Fantastic!” was the reaction of Superior Police Chief Mark Nipp on learning of the school safety improvements grant.
“It’s never wrong to be extra cautious when it concerns our children,” he said. “With the problems happening around the country, being proactive in maintaining a safe environment inside a schools is a benefit for the entire community.”
Improved student safety also will result from upgrading the locks on classrooms at schools in Oracle. According to Oracle Superintendent Dennis Blauser, should a lockdown of classrooms be necessary, they all can be bolted only through a lockbox. With the upgraded locks, teachers can lock doors from the inside of classrooms as soon as a safety threat is known, thus trimming response time in setting up protections for students, he explained.
Both grant-supported projects will get underway soon in both districts. In Superior, the video surveillance system is being acquired from and installed by Tempe-based Logicalis Co. and should be completed by July 15, just before students begin classes in late July under its modified schedule that staggers student attendance to make maximum use of existing school facilities.
To power the new security system, Superior Unified School District is proceeding with plans to make both of its schools nearly energy independent by the installation of solar panels to generate the electricity each school uses. According to O’Donnell, solar panels already provide 90 percent of the electricity needed by the high school. Additional solar panel installations on the elementary school also will provide most of its electricity needs, he said.
Both O’Donnell and Blauser admitted that these security systems are needed even in small rural towns like Superior and Oracle due to the current problems occurring in schools nationwide where students are put in jeopardy by both intruders and from fellow students.
Ruby James, superintendent of the Eloy Elementary School District, knows exactly what they are talking about. A few months ago, the pursuit of a man following a shooting incident by the Pinal County Sheriff’s police came close enough to one of Eloy’s schools to consider a lockdown.
“It would have helped if we have a working alert system where we could inform parents by cellphone or email whenever the school is put on lockdown due to a safety threat to let them know the situation and that their children were safe,” James said. “Such a system will cost about $8,000, which we currently haven’t the funds to acquire,” he said. “You can imagine the safety projects we could perform with a $100,000 grant,” James noted.
Another Eloy safety need is a new camera surveillance system to monitor school property. The old system was disabled by thieves stealing the cameras. Eloy would like to acquire a new system consisting of compact dome cameras that can be hidden in ceilings and other structures.
“If the Queen Creek Unified School District received an ADE grant there are two areas that we have discussed that we feel would be a good investment to improve school safety,” said Superintendent Tom Lindsey. “One would be erecting better fencing at some of our older campuses to make them more secure by creating a single point of entry. We also would install more security cameras at school sites and on buses,” said Lindsey.
“Schools in the Florence United School District already has an alert system and it provides peace of mind knowing we can assure parents their children are safe should anything happen,” said Chris Knutsen, assistant superintendent.
The top safety priority at the Florence district involves dangerous “rush hour” traffic in the parking lot of Posten Butte High School in San Tan Valley, he noted. Because the lot is flat with parking areas marked only with painted lines, there have been some traffic altercations as drivers during drop-off and pickup hours jockey to get ahead of other cars.
“Adding concrete barriers at the end of parking spaces would limit traffic to proper lanes and thus making it less of a free-for-all,” Knutsen said.
The Coolidge Unified School District is currently studying what safety improvements are needed at its schools. To move this program forward, the district recently created the new position of School Safety Officer to help with the study and to create a safety manual for all schools that will detail procedures should safety problems arise, said Superintendent Charie Wallace.
Unfortunately there will be no school security improvement grants awarded next year, said ADE spokesman Ashley Dammen. The budget for next year recently approved by the Arizona state legislature and signed by Gov. Jan Brewer does not include funding for such grants.