Rogue Valley Schools Beef Up Security

, Written by Christine Pitawanich, Posted: Tue, August 20 2013 at 6:30 PM, Updated: Tue, August 20 2013 at 10:27 PM

In the wake of the gunman entering a school in Georgia and Sandy Hook tragedy that happened back in December of 2012, school safety is at the top of district officials' agendas with kids heading back to school in less than two weeks.

"What we learned from Sandy Hook and other places is that you need one point of entry," said Dr. Phil Long, Superintendent of the Medford School District.

That's why he says the district is being pro-active, making security changes that are expected to be done by the beginning of the school year.

Securing Medford Schools

"This is one of the four large projects we have going on," said Dr. Long.

Dr. Long walked NBC 5 News through some of the big changes at Hoover Elementary in Medford.

"[Last year] you could come in through the front entryway without checking into the front office and now you'll need to, so we'll go take a look at that over here," said Long.

According to Long, the difficulty with many schools in his district and others is that they were built in what he called "California style."

"They were open to the public [...] it allows you to come onto campus without ever going to the office," began Long.

"This will be the only entrance that people will be able to come in during school hours," he said as he motioned at a new structure crews were building.

A Teacher's Take

All the construction is a welcome sight for kindergarten teacher Dee Robino.

"Looking forward to a new beginning here with safety issues taken care of," she said.

"It's really important to me after last year and all the tragedies we had. It was very concerning to me because my door did not have a window," reflected Robino.

However, that's all changing and security issues are getting addressed.

"As you can see there are no windows, so children would come outside and not know who was outside the door. We're actually sealing all these doors. If you go onto the other side of the building, you'll see in the courtyard we put doors on that side and it will all empty into the interior of the campus," said Long.

On the perimeter of the campus, a four-foot fence is getting raised to 6 feet, all to increase security.

"We can't always control what people are going to do, but we can control how quickly we can respond and how organized we are to keep people safe, because time is the most important variable when something hard is happening on campus," Long said.

Other Medford Schools Getting Security Upgrades

Other schools in the Medford School District that are also undergoing extensive structural changes to ensure visitors go through the office before heading into hallways and classrooms are Kennedy, and Griffin Creek Elementary as well as McLoughlin Middle School. All together, the construction totals about $550,000.

Also in the works: installation of a silent alarm button that calls police directly. Long said the new addition would roll-out first in Medford elementary schools. Teachers and staff will be trained to use them this upcoming October.

Eagle Point School District Also Increasing Security

It's not just the Medford School District making sure their kids are safe. Over at the Eagle Point School District, Scott Whitman, the Director of Business Services said they've finally completed the installation of an emergency system at their Shady Cove School. It's been in the works since 2012, but was completed this summer.

The system, when activated, would allow Jackson County Sheriff's deputies to see video and hear audio from inside the school. The new add-on will be active this school year.

Whitman also said White Mountain Middle School will be participating in a pilot program where visitors need to be buzzed into the school.

At this point, the District's Weapons Safety Committee has met a couple times over the summer and plans to meet again sometime in September. They will be discussing potentially arming teachers with guns and other school safety measures.

Rogue River School District Also Making Changes

Rogue River Superintendent Paul Young said they just finished putting up fencing around their elementary school. It's a move that will force visitors into the office before they gain access to school grounds.

He said improving school security is an on-going project and they intend to add more cameras soon.

After the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in Connecticut last December, law enforcement officials and superintendents in the Rogue Valley got together to discuss what needed to be done to improve school safety. The current changes are a result of those meetings.

Where's the Money Coming From?

Back in June, school districts received more money from the Oregon legislature, freeing up more resources for security upgrades. Superintendent Long said making the structural changes to buildings will allow the district to keep staff in the classrooms versus hire more people to monitor the campus.

There have been no recent incidences of shootings on campuses in Southern Oregon. The last was 1998 in Springfield.

We tried to get a hold of other school districts in Ashland, Phoenix/Talent, and Central Point to talk about any new security changes but did not receive a call back.

What do you think? Sound off on our Facebook page and on Twitter, or leave a comment below.

About the Author

Christine Pitawanich

Christine Pitawanich was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. In 2010, she received a master's degree in Broadcast Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in New York.

Christine also has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from the University of Washington.

Before joining the NBC5 News team, she had the opportunity to file reports from Washington D.C. for WFFT FOX Ft. Wayne News in Indiana. Christine has also interned at KOMO-TV in Seattle.

Christine loves to ski, try new food and have fun in the outdoors.

Catch Christine anchoring weekdays on NBC 5 News at 5pm.

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