One local school has taken measures to improve school security in hopes of becoming the “safest school around,” a goal the principal said he believes to be within reach.
Prospect Elementary School Principal Steve Montgomery said staff members and teachers have banded together to raise roughly $30,000 to purchase things like a new privacy fence and door locks to get closer to that goal.
On Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman shot and killed 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Montgomery and teacher Pam Coffey described that event as one that shocked the entire nation, including the people of Cleveland, and inspired what the school is trying to do today.
“We all just thought it was quite impossible for an elementary school to see a shooting like that,” Coffey said.
In the aftermath of the event, Montgomery said he began receiving calls from concerned parents and grandparents who wanted to know what Prospect Elementary was doing to try to prevent a tragedy like Sandy Hook’s.
The school formed a safety committee that includes teachers and others who have expertise in the area of safety, like a parent who happens to be a police officer. As committee members began re-evaluating the school’s safety policies, they found several things needed to be addressed.
One was that the classrooms were divided into separate buildings, and the areas between them were exposed to anyone who decided to trespass. There was also no fencing between the school’s property and a development of apartment complexes behind it. If the school had to go on a lock down, teachers had to lock their classroom doors from the outside, putting themselves at risk of harm by stepping out into the hall. The school also lies within sight of Interstate 75.
Parents took action. They sold trash bags and held pancake breakfasts to raise money to address school’s security concerns. The hours of effort resulted the school gaining $30,000.
“To raise that much money is quite incredible,” Coffey said. “That shows the parents are also committed to safety.”
So far, $24,000 has been used to enclose the back portion of the school’s property and separate it from the apartment complex.
Montgomery said the school is also in the process of purchasing new locks for all the classroom doors, ones that can be locked from the inside “with just a push of a button.”
In addition to the parents’ and students’ efforts, Montgomery said he has been petitioning the Bradley County school system and the school’s business partners to get the money to make more improvements around the school’s property.
“We take safety very seriously,” Montgomery said. “But it has fallen under the money.”
He said the school also has gotten more aggressive about doing regular safety drills so both teachers and students know what to do in an emergency, whether it be a tornado or a lockdown. They now take place once a week, more often than required, Montgomery said.
Coffey said she has already seen a difference in how well students respond to drill instructions, and the time it takes for a drill has gotten shorter and shorter.
Other future goals include adding more fencing toward the front of the school and purchasing radios that can be used to communicate when cell phones might not be an option.
Montgomery said the ultimate goal would be to find a way to enclose the entire campus so students can travel between buildings inside a secure area.
That would entail fencing in everything from the edge of the building that includes the school’s main office to the building that houses the gym. The office would be made the only entrance to the school during regular classroom hours.
“It’s a safe place, but we are continuing to look at ways to do better,” Montgomery said.
The school plans to continue fundraising until the school becomes “a model for safety,” he added.
To donate to the school’s cause, call (423) 478-8814.