After nearly two months since first opening, security improvements at the new Central Kitsap Middle School, will provide enhancements that are going to take some getting used to, according to Central Kitsap School District Assistant Superintendent Doug Newell.
According to administrators, the new building provides immense security enhancements and resources which the old building did not. Features such as secure entryways, automatically locked doors, ventilation, sound and surveillance systems, are some of the resources that the community helped with in funding of the project.
“Operationally, it gives us a lot more safety during the day,” CKMS Principal Scott McDaniel said. “It was hard to do at our old structure.”
School security and safety, as well as providing social and emotional safety resources, were at the forefront of priorities for the new middle school, Newell said.
“Safety and security of our staff and students has become something we think about on a daily basis. We spend probably more energy on [social and emotional wellness] recently by bringing on training for our staff, bringing in more counselors and other support to increase the well-being of everyone in our school district.”
CKMS is also part of the Rapid Responder Easy Alert System to expedite the response of law enforcement agencies so first responders can obtain information about the building before they arrive on scene.
“It allows law enforcement to interact in real time to the system, with each other, McDaniel said. “It’s a pretty amazing tool that’s built in.”
McDaniel spoke about upgrades to the intercom system, which could also help with emergency responses.
“Up until moving into the building, someone would have to get on the announcements and declare what was happening,” he said. “The new system is automated where you hit a button and it automatically replays the message over and over inside and outside the building.”
“It’s also automated in terms of contacting law enforcement and locking down doors. Previously, I had to rely on staff to manually lock down doors and if they were gone and we had a substitute, we had a problem.”
These new feature enhancements will also help to create a better learning environment, according to Newell.
“The first thing we have to do is create a great learning environment because that is the business we’re in,” he said. “What you’ll see through this building is best design practices. We want to get rid of the distractions; we want the temperature right, we want the air quality right, we want it well lit.”
“Natural light is better for us functioning than simply artificial light. We’ve learned that without natural light, student performance is not as good.”
McDaniel provided an example of why the frequent windows around the school make for more effective student supervision.
“I used to have staff searching for breakout spaces for kids,” he said. “I would mandate that teachers stand in the doorway of their classrooms to be able to monitor both groups of kids. My requirement, and most school requirements, is that you got to have eyes on kids.”
“In this new environment, they’re able to send student groups out to work and they can see kids working and still be actively teaching. From an instructional side and a staff supervision side, visibility is really important.”
While the addition of extensive windows throughout the school provide increased observability, they have also raised questions about security as well. When asked if the amount of windows could expose students and staff to a possible school shooter, Newell said, “I’m not certain I truly understand how having this window changes the safety paradigm here in this room.”
Newell referred to the active shooter response training, ALICE, which stands for “alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.” The training addresses how to more proactively handle the threat of an aggressive intruder or active shooter event, according to alicetraining.com. The website also states that ALICE training’s option-based tactics have become the accepted response, versus the traditional lockdown-only approach.
“I think the process before was kind of stay quiet and stay hidden,” Newell said. “Now we’ve learned that might not be as good as it should be.”
“This building is a thousand times safer than the last one,” Principal McDaniel said. “If we have a lockdown, ALICE is the core of that.”
McDaniel also noted that every space in the school has a matrix that shows how to respond for each kind of emergency. The stairwells on the second and third floors are the evacuation routes for students and staff if an emergency were to occur, McDaniel explained.
“Staff actually trained with kids about what stairways to take from each space,” he said. “There is not a single space in the school that doesn’t have at least two pathways to escape from.”
Despite McDaniel’s assurances that the new building is safe, one CKMS educator didn’t seem convinced. In a staff-wide email sent on May 17, Jeff Winger called into question the new building’s security.
“Having been the emergency preparedness coordinator, the safety committee chairman, and in charge of safety patrol for most of the last 20 years at my last school, I am very passionate about school safety,” Winger said in the email. “As such, I have a few concerns about our school’s safety.”
In the email, Winger pointed out his concerns related to the numerous windows throughout the building.
“I, along with many, many other staff members, am very surprised with and disappointed in the school’s glass-menageries classroom design regarding the lack of secure hiding places that could shield students and staff from a school intruder / shooter. I’d like to know why, in an era where there are about one school shootings per week, and in a brand new $185,000,000 building, most classrooms are huge with nowhere, or no way, to hide out of eyesight?”
In his email Winger also seemed to contest McDaniel’s claims that ALICE training provided sufficient protocol for an active shooter scenario at the school.
“One may argue, well, ALICE training now says don’t hide, run and get out. My rebuttal is that this is not always possible or immediately possible. For example, let’s say someone starts wandering and shooting on the first floor. The second and third floors have no way out of the building other than to come down the stairs to the first floor where the danger would be.”
“So they would HAVE to lockdown and hide. But where? How?”
Tyler Shuey is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.