Referrals down at Florence 1 Schools
New Safety Initiatives planned for 2019-20
In the last year, there has been a renewed emphasis on safety and security in Florence 1 Schools and new data shows that it is making a difference.
“Safety and discipline in our schools is and will continue to be a top priority for this administration,” said Dr. Richard O’Malley, superintendent of Florence One Schools.
In eleven categories of student violations tracked by the district last school year, six of them showed marked decline in student referrals in the 2018-2019 school year from the previous year.
Kelvin Wymbs, Director of Secondary Education, said that the district was making a big push to educate students on the district code of conduct, while also involving parents in the conversation about their student’s behavior.
“Our teachers and our administrators have been very proactive, talking with students about violations and being good citizens,” Wymbs said. “The parent engagement piece, and students talking about their behaviors and ways to correct it, works along with the proactive work of our staff to make the difference we’re seeing in these numbers.”
The largest decline was in attack on student, a broad category that covers all interactions between students ranging from verbal bullying to cyber bullying or sexting. Referrals falling into that category declined 50 percent from 1,483 to 701. Referrals for classroom disruptions, defiance of authority, cutting class, bullying, and possession of a weapon have also declined significantly.
Four other violations, tardy, drug possession, violating the district technology acceptable use policy, tobacco possession or use, also decreased slightly. Only bus violations, anything from standing up to defying authority, saw an increase.
“With issues like tobacco use, you see things like vaping coming in to play,” Wymbs said. “The last time the student code of conduct was revised that wasn’t as big of an issue.”
Part of the emphasis on increasing safety for student and staff included hiring Douglas Nunnally as the district’s Director of Security and School Safety. When he was hired last year, he immediately began evaluating Florence 1 Schools sites to see where improvements needed to be made. Nunnally said that he is pleased with the changes that have been made in the last year.
“When I started, we changed our focus to prevention and preparedness instead of simply response,” Nunnally said. “In order to make that change we began revising our procedures and conducting in-depth assessments of the security at each school. It is extremely important that we continue to revise and improve these procedures so that we are keeping up with current recommendations from experts in this field.”
Each school has an emergency plan specifically tailored to its campus; a Security Master Plan has also been developed for the district.
Schools now participate in monthly lockdown and lockout drills.
“Students need to know how to protect themselves from both inside and outside threats,” Nunnally said. “We do these drills so that our students and our staff are reminded regularly about the procedures at their location and how best to keep themselves safe.”
While planning for emergencies is crucial, every day safety is also important.
“The traffic patterns of several of our schools have been or are being modified to ensure that student drop-offs and pick-ups are done as efficiently and safely as possible,” Nunnally said. “Improving the flow of traffic in congested areas helps our students and their parents.”
New traffic patterns will be seen at Southside Middle, South Florence High, the Florence Career Center, Sneed Middle and West Florence High; signage, both painted arrows and physical signs, will more definitively help drivers know how to enter and exit these campuses during busy times.
New fencing and gates will also be seen on several campuses, stopping unnecessary traffic from using school sites as a cut-through. Camera systems at all elementary schools have been converted from analog to digital; systems at middle schools and high schools, which had already been moving to digital, were also upgraded.
“Adding new fencing and upgrading our surveillance systems allows us to monitor who is on our campus,” Nunnally said.
Across the district, the Lynx Emergency Notification System is being installed.
“Lynx is a multi-platform notification system,” Nunnally said. “When Lynx is triggered it takes over the computers at the site and displays a message for users. It also broadcasts an emergency message that’s been recorded over the PA system.”
Nunnally said that, with Lynx, the district is working with the latest technology, to the point that some equipment is being made as Florence 1 orders it.
“It takes a long time to turn a battleship,” Nunnally said. “But I will do whatever I can to make sure that we are more than prepared when it comes to protecting our students and staff.”