In a meeting this week with Johnston County town managers, school district superintendent Ross Renfrow said a safety and security officer would be among his budget priorities for the coming school year.
The new job would study school buildings for security weaknesses and assess the credibility of threats made against schools or students.
Renfrow noted the Johnston County of 2017 is vastly different from the one even a decade, both culturally and in terms of size. The Johnston school system is already the seventh largest in the state, Renfrow said, and based on population projections, he expects it to be the fastest-growing district in North Carolina within a year or two.
Also, Renfrow said, the American classroom must adapt to modern threats. Once, it would have been no big deal to prop a door open with a wooden block while a class spent time on the playground, but no more, he said.
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Renfrow said the new position would help teachers and staff understand the trade of old conveniences for more security.
“I’m so proud of our teachers just knowing we have to have a culture of awareness,” Renfrow said. “If I’m out on the playground focusing on kids, I’m not really that in tune to who is going to go in behind me in that door I’ve left propped open. We know we can’t continue to do things like that.”
Renfrow said other large school districts in the state have security officers, including Wake County. He said the school board has indicated it supports the new job, which he expects to fill with someone from the law enforcement community. The officer would oversee security at all 46 Johnston schools and assess the validity of threats, a job currently handled by the school system’s head school resource officer.
“In my mind, this is not someone who is a professional educator, though it could be,” Renfrow said. “But this is someone who has some background in safety and security, someone who has law enforcement background, homeland security, SBI, CIA, anything that they have done previously where they can help us assess our school building so that we can do things to enhance safety and security from a culture standpoint.
“I was trained to be a United States history teacher and a football coach,” Renfrow said. “When it comes to issues of security, I need to embrace others and their opinions to make sure our campuses are safe.”
In Johnston, the job would entail assessing the movement of students through buildings, bus loading and unloading, traffic patterns in car rider lines and parking lots.
Renfrow sees security as the kind of problem where a pile of cash might not move the needle very much, where dangers can be mitigated and avoided, but never completely ruled out. He said this new officer would focus not on building schools into fortresses but on maximizing security through locked doors, vigilance and sign-in procedures at the front desk.
“You could spend millions of dollars to make our schools as safe as possible, but if someone is so determined that they want to perpetrate an act of evil, they’ll go out and buy a tank and drive through a fence and drive into a school if their motive is strong enough for them to do it,” Renfrow said. “This (safety and security officer) needs to know they have a budget of about zero. They can go out there and say, ‘An assessment at school XYZ, you can spend a million dollars to make sure it’s safe and secure.’ That’s not going to happen. This person has to look at our culture with a trained eye.”
Another plan for next year would more than double time for teacher training during the school year. Renfrow said he and the school board would like to have professional development days each month of the school year, letting students out early so teachers and staff can gain new skills and hone old ones.
“We plan to build a professional development day into the calendar each month next year,” Renfrow said. “I believe we have four of those right now, so next year we’ll have nine or 10, one a month, so that we can give our teachers, assistant principals, our principals, our custodians, our cafeteria workers, our bus drivers more professional development to help them be better in serving our student. I think it’s vastly important.”