Security multi-faceted for Wilmette school leaders
Harper School Principal Sue Kick demonstrates the double-buzz system at Harper School. |Joe Cyganowski- For Sun-Times Media.
Updated: March 8, 2013 10:00AM
WILMETTE — Sue Kick, principal of Harper Elementary School, remembers when the school started using a “double-buzz” entry system, making visitors wait to be buzzed in to a vestibule where they would sign in, then wait to be buzzed further in.
“Initially, like all things, people weren’t always pleased,” Kick said last week. “But everyone got used to it.”
That could be good news for Wilmette School District 39 administrators who are reviewing building security options, including the idea of retrofitting all district buildings with the same kind of system Harper has.
Administrators who hosted a well-attended Feb. 6 town hall session on school safety, and who were reviewing safety policies even before the shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook School last year, aren’t looking at safety solely in terms of physical additions.
Security can be as simple as training people not to let in “tailgaters” who walk in with someone who has already been buzzed in by staff. It can mean staff remembering to wear ID badges, Administrator Denise Thrasher told board members Feb. 25. Many of those are already in place or soon will be.
Safety, as Wilmette Police Chief Brian King and Fire Chief Jim Dominik emphasized to the town hall audience, also means making sure students are safe from automobiles as they enter and leave school, and can safely evacuate a building if it’s on fire.
“Safety is a lot more than security systems,” Superintendent Raymond Lechner said last week. He emphasized that at the meeting, talking about the importance providing emotional and mental health resources for students. King made the same points.
Both also said existing police presence in district schools (the district has a regular police liaison and school properties are patrolled) is not a matter of putting more armed personnel in buildings.
Dominik last week repeated what he told the audience: “A school is far more likely to have a fire than a shooting.”
Protecting schools from dangerous intruders was on the minds of parents and residents who contacted the district after Sandy Hook, Lechner acknowledged. That was one reason for the Feb. 6 meeting, he said, “and I think people were pleased they had an opportunity to talk and ask questions. I think they left feeling we have a lot more (safety provisions) in place than they might have thought.”
School safety concerns aren’t new; schools tightened building restrictions after the 1988 Laurie Dann shootings in Winnetka and procedures toughened again in the wake of the 1999 Columbine shootings. A consultant District 39 hired that year to review its security made nearly 200 security recommendations.
Today district schools hold lock-down, fire, severe weather and earthquake drills, as do all Illinois districts. Officials meet regularly with fire and police representatives. They also discuss safety issues with their counterparts at other New Trier Township districts, Lechner said.
Both Lechner and Supt. Kevin Jauch, in neighboring Avoca School District 37, praised that cooperation, and that between their districts and public safety departments in the communities they serve.
“We work closely with Glenview and Wilmette departments and they are outstanding resources for us,” Jauch said. He also said security will be part of the review his district will ask for from architects it eventually hires to do its next facilities and life-safety plan.
The six security upgrades reviewed by a District 39 school board facilities committee last month were gleaned from more than 90 the district received from the public and staff, Lechner said. They included possibly using the kind of driver’s license scanning system used by many area high school districts, including New Trier Township High School, one that allows officials to do background checks while printing out visitors’ ID badges.
Facilities committee chair Kimberly Alcantara said last week her committee will revisit the list this month after administrators provide more information and cost estimates. Recommendations to the full board would be part of future budget talks.
One thing that shouldn’t be forgotten, Kick said, “is that our schools are friendly places. When people are asked to sign in, or asked to identify themselves, we want them to know that we’re never trying to insult them. We are just looking to make our schools more secure.”