Making Strides In Safety

Published 4:51 pm Thursday, December 20, 2012

Great gains have been made in rectifying what the Mississippi Department of Education earlier this year deemed inadequate safety precautions at Brookhaven schools, district administrators said.

     Steps toward greater preparedness have included the adoption of a district-wide crisis response and safety plan, something that hadn’t existed before.

     Primary and alternate evacuation sites have also been chosen for each school, where students could be taken for pickup by parents in the event of an emergency.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

     In light of the Newtown, Conn. school shooting last week that claimed the lives of 26 elementary school students and adults, Brookhaven Superintendent Dr. Lisa Karmacharya said she’s glad to say safety has been at the forefront in the district for much of the year.

     “I’m extremely proud that we were proactive,” Karmacharya said.

     At the district’s invitation, the MDE inspected school facilities earlier this year and released a report to board members in April.

     That report detailed the deficiencies in security and emergency preparedness across the district.

     An evacuation at Brookhaven Elementary School in October following a gas leak showed the dividends of increased training and preparation, the superintendent said.

     “Everyone knew what to do,” said Karmacharya.

     David Martin didn’t take the reins as Brookhaven High School principal until this summer, but he feels BHS has made great gains.

     “I think everything is in compliance,” he said.

     Prompted by the tragedy in Connecticut, Martin said he reviewed lockdown procedures this week with his staff.

     “We covered that again this week, just to let everyone know,” Martin said.

     In particular, the MDE safety assessment highlighted the need for improved visitor control at each school.

     At BHS in particular, there are many buildings on the campus and many ways into buildings, particularly the main building.

     Martin said he has taken steps to ensure side entrances to the main building remain locked to funnel visitors into the main entrance where they can be checked in at the office.

     Martin admitted visitor control remains a challenge.

     Pep rallies in particular attract lots of parents and community members that don’t always properly follow procedures for checking in as guests, noted the principal.

     School Resource Officer David Johnson, an officer with the Brookhaven Police Department, does his part to maintain visitor control and said he has a “zero tolerance policy” for trespassers and visitors that haven’t properly checked in.

     For his part, Johnson received training and classes over the summer and was officially certified as a school resource officer.

     Johnson has been a presence at BHS for 17 years, but the MDE report noted he and the full-time officer at Alexander Junior High weren’t certified through the MDE. They’ve both received that training now.

     While making a routine inspection of campus Wednesday, Johnson described his efforts to maintain the security of the school. He’s at BHS fulltime during school hours, and is available on an as-needed basis at other school sites that don’t have full-time police presence.

     Johnson emphasized that his presence at the school goes beyond ensuring doors and gates are locked – though he does that as well.

     “I’m part of the district,” Johnson said.

     He has an office at the school and conferences with students and their parents as certain problems arise. He also works hard to get to know the students.

     “You have to be approachable,” Johnson said. “Have a more personal relationship.”

     Johnson said an important part of his job is taking “preventive measures” with students.

     Despite all the district’s strides this year, Karmacharya acknowledged there always an element of the unknown.

     “No campus is 100 percent safe,” she said. “That’s impossible.”

     Karmacharya called safety as “ongoing process” as the district works to ensure staff and administrators receive up to date training and that issues are dealt with as they arise.

     Karmacharya said the Connecticut shooting is a call to reaffirm the district’s commitment to safety.

     “We do everything in our power to make sure all children and staff are safe,” she said.