Studio Forsyth: Twenty one days until school starts and Forsyth County Schools works hard to put safety first
With just a day until thousands of students file on to morning buses and start the new school year, the Forsyth County Schools Safety and Operations department has been hard at work behind the scenes all summer to make sure 2019 goes off a hitch.
In early 2018 the Forsyth County Board of Education voted to reallocate $5 million of the 2019 School bond to expand dozens of district-wide safety projects. At that meeting Todd Shirley, chief operations officer for Forsyth County Schools, spoke to the board, saying that it was "imperative" that the district enhances the relationships between school and communities while maintaining the "highest level of safety for all students and staff members."
At that meeting, a number of different recommendations were made to the board, including, new camera systems, lockdown buttons, emergency medical equipment, double entries and smarter security screening technology.
By the numbers
Number of schools in Forsyth County Schools
New positions added for 2019
Number of students
Approximate total staff members
Square feet in school-related buildings
Source: Forsyth County Schools
In the months since that recommendation was accepted by the board, Shirley said many of those projects have been completed at schools, support buildings and buses throughout the county — and more are on their way.
From the Forsyth County Safety Command Center at the Almon Hill Education Center, Shirley and his team work surrounded by computer monitors and TV screens, each cycling through approximately 1,400 high definition security cameras at different schools and maps showing weather threats in real time. From the command center, he says they can monitor just about anything that might affect student’s safety and in many cases control or respond to it.
"With the simple push of a button, we can alert every school immediately, and within a matter of seconds we can put them in a duck and cover situation or a lockdown situation," Shirley said, pointing to a bank of radios on a wall.
The safety command center also contains a secure staging area for coordination and communication during the event of an emergency. Shirley said that they have emergency response and recovery situations down to an exact science, with contingency plans and a set of tools handle any situation.
"That is probably the most important thing for our office, we want to be pro-active in our measures to keep your student safe," he said.
Shirley said that every school in the county now has several large red lockdown buttons, placed strategically throughout the schools. When pressed, these buttons set off a code red lockdown, alerting students and staff to assume emergency positions, and drawing law enforcement or emergency responders to the scene.
"There are no questions asked, fire, emergency, police, everyone immediately starts responding to the situation," Shirley said.
He said that other upcoming improvements, like security shades and magnetic door locks, will increase security and save teachers precious time. Some schools, he said, will receive a special type of shatterproof window tinting to stop intruders from looking or breaking through, other schools will receive new security doors or retrofitted double entryways.
Shirley said after a life or death situation was diverted late last year at Cumming Elementary, they also decided to increase the emergency medical equipment available at schools.
In addition to the 10-12 Stop the Bleed Tourniquet Kits that have been provided to county's 39 public schools by the Georgia Trauma Commission, 700 additional kits were purchased and disbursed throughout the district.
"You never know when you are going to need them, but those are in place already, and that's a great thing," Shirley said.
Shirley also said that the system has also completed the installation of 30 bus arm cameras on Forsyth County Schools buses.
For the 2019 school year, Forsyth County Schools is readying themselves for nearly 50,000 students and a total of 6,000 staff members’ district-wide.
Among the 237 new positions that were filled for the upcoming year, additional Social Emotional Learning and Student Advocate Specialist positions have been added for each of the high schools.
"We have already had an orientation with them, they have been introduced to their principals and the admin staff, and they have gone through some additional training," Shirley said.
Shirley said that the new Student Advocate Specialists will work within the high schools and each of their feeder schools, to monitor and help students before they even enter high school.
In a statement to the FCN, Forsyth County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden challenged parents, students and community members to do their part to increase school safety and to "see something, say something."
"We want all students to feel safe and be safe in our schools," Shirley said. "This starts when they begin their day on one of our close to 400 buses, and continues beyond school hours to “see something, say something”.
Bearden said that anyone wanting to submit an anonymous tip about non-urgent illegal activities can do so by contacting Campus Crime Stoppers at https://www.forsyth.k12.ga.us/Page/635.