On Wednesday, September 5, Henderson County school superintendent Bo Caldwell visited West Henderson. Print Editor-in-Chief of Wingspan, Bartel Van Oostendorp, interviewed Caldwell to better understand how the county is handling school safety.
Bartel: I wrote this story last year, it was about some of the new plans in place for Henderson County, so this is an update on that. You went to a school safety conference recently.
Caldwell: I did, it was this summer for superintendents and it was really interesting. It was great to hear what other districts were doing. You know, sometimes the best ideas were shared by other people. So, we got some other ideas and thoughts about some school safety things that they are doing and got some names of companies that could help us on some safety items that we are looking at purchasing. I got to hear the superintendent from Sandy Hook and that superintendent just reflected on what he feels like is the most important issues with school safety and looking back at what transpired at Sandy Hook and what could have been done better. His first thing was locked doors save lives. So that’s why we are telling all teachers to lock all the doors, it’s an inconvenience, it’s a hassle, but yet people probably don’t realize but if you go to re-look at Sandy Hook, the school shooter, the first door that he came to, was locked and then he went to the next door and it was unlocked. And as the superintendent says, I can call those twenty kids that were behind that door that was locked. I can’t call those kids that were behind the door that was unlocked. His biggest thing was that locked doors save lives because when you have someone as a school shooter, unfortunately the mentality when somebody gets into that state of mind is they’re there to take out as many people as quick as they can. School shootings only last three to five minutes and it’s over because it’s unfortunately, and I’m not getting into the video games or anything else, but it’s almost that mentality, body count and how many you can get. So, the longer you can deter and stop somebody from doing what they come to do, the better you win the game. That’s what he was saying, locked doors save lives. That’s where we’re looking at our money, for enhancing our doors and locks throughout here to make our school safer. You know, he was also talking about video cameras, and you know we have video cameras here, but some people went out and put a really tremendous amount of video cameras. Video cameras only tell you who did something after it was over, we got to spend more money being proactive vs. reactive. You gotta spend more money making sure you stop something before it happens vs. ‘let’s go see who did what.’ So, that’s why we’re looking at not doing as much with our video cameras but doing some more stuff throughout our school system with some additional locks and those types of things.
Bartel: There’s the Rave application that was in its trial run.
Caldwell: Now, all full-time staff members have a Rave Button. And if you ask me what the Rave Button is, it’s this right here. If one of our full-time employees, teacher or teacher assistant, feels like that there is a situation where they’ve got to call 911, that’s what the Rave Button is for. The Rave Button works like any other app, where if you’ve got to call 911 now, you know you’ve got to hit the phone, dial 911, and then 911 comes on and says ‘What’s your emergency?’ and then you’ve got to go through the whole explanation, ‘Where are you?’ ‘What’s your location?’ ‘What’s your issue?’ Well here, if a teacher feels like there’s a threat or if there is a safety issue you hit this button and you see there are options, active shooter, fire, medical, police, other, and then you can also hit that for staff assistants. The power is when a teacher hits this from West High School, and they say it is a medical, that immediately goes to 911, it tells the 911 center that this call is coming from West Henderson High School and it’s a medical emergency, without having to talk to anybody.
Bartel: It cuts out those precious few minutes that you need.
Caldwell: There you go. Every minute and every second saves lives. Therefore, that is the beauty of that, fire, police, 911 for any other situation that might occur, or if there is an active shooter. The 911 center went though and they basically built a, what I call, an electronic fence around West Henderson High School. If I pulled this app up for some reason and I was at Wal-Mart, it wouldn’t pick up, well why wouldn’t it pick up, because I’m not in the ‘electronic fence’ of West Henderson High School, or the electronic fence around East Henderson, or Atkinson, or Mills River. So there is an electronic fence around each of the schools so when they hit this, they know where it’s coming from. So therefore, you shouldn’t worry about where teachers are or if they have young children that play on their phones. If they hit this, you’ve got to be in this location. So, Ms. Auten’s phone is registered to this campus, she hits it, they know it’s an emergency. We also did it for medical, you know you’re at a football game and somebody gets so excited when West scores that he has a heart attack. Well, what do you do, you hit medical. Let’s say you’re down somewhere on the other end of the campus and all the sudden you see smoke coming out, you see a fire, a teacher can hit the fire button. So, there is more than emergencies and safety than just a school shooter, that’s just what gets the attention. But, we are looking at all safety issues, not just an active school shooter but all safety. So, that is the Rave Button.
Bartel: How much did that cost to implement?
Caldwell: You know, right now I am not sure. The county purchased this for us, the school system didn’t have to spend any money on us, this was something that came from the 911 County Center and certainly I want to thank them for the work that they did on this. It was absolutely great for the county to give us this little app that has certainly helped us.
Bartel: What other plans do we have for Henderson County?
Caldwell: So, we are having a company come in and look at all of our policies and procedures, to see if we are up-to-date. This is the same company that is working with Parkland right now and going through their policies and procedures. We hired the same company to go through our policy and make sure that what we’re doing is the best method. When we do lockdowns, how we do lockdowns, are we doing it correctly? Is there another something better than what we are doing? Do all of our teachers know communication wise how to handle things? What’s our policy on substitutes? What’s our policy for visitors and how do they know what school safety is? Policies and procedures are huge, we have to be coming in and looking at all of that. We have a company coming in to look at doing basically a facility study. Looking at all of our facilities and seeing what we can do to enhance them. You’re going to start seeing throughout the year, there will be some electronic locks put on. West Henderson High School will have electronic locks, where, you know you have exterior doors, well what we are going to be able to do is those doors are going to be locked and they will be on a computer system to where during class changes those doors will be unlocked and guess what happens at the end of class change, those doors will be locked again. basically what we’re doing, is while children are in class, those exterior doors are going to be locked. That is the stop-gap till I can get enough money to build basically corridors and make it a single point access. East [Henderson] High is the same way, with single point access. But, until we get single point access, we will have electronic locks in our high schools. Middle schools, we’re going to do electronic locks as well, and we’re also going to start looking at the elementary schools of what we call ‘contain to confirm,’ where you can only get in the front door, but when they get in the front door, the only place they can get into is the office area. So, they can’t go anywhere outside till they hit another unlocked door, and let them go to the next level. we are going to work on that, at our elementary schools, and then our middle schools, and eventually in our high schools. So, I can see that when you walk into West Henderson High School, there will be a buzzer at the front door, they’ll let that person in, and there will probably be a doorway right there before you go to towards the guidance office, you have to go into the office and buzz you to the next level. that’s the long-range goal. But we are starting with the electronic locks first. Then we are looking for all of our systems to have single point access.
Bartel: What are the plans for cost, and how will we raise money for those construction projects?
Caldwell: So right now the commissioners have given us funding, they provided roughly $600,000 to get it started. It was money funded by the county commissioners for school safety. Around $600,000 is going to go for locks and walls and that type of thing. They also gave us some additional money, roughly $400,000 to hire additional social workers to help us with students and families who are having a tough time. Students who feel lonely because, let’s be honest, it’s often students who feel like they’re the lone wolf that cause some situations. So, it’s important for us to have more social workers to help students and families get through some tough times in their lives. So, we have just hired nine additional social workers for a school systems.
Bartel: What about the SRO (student resource officer) situation?
Caldwell: SROs right now are being hired by the county. Right now, elementary schools are being currently covered by off-duty SROs until their full-time SRO is employed. Talking to the sheriff, they’re in the process of hiring, and right now that is kind of in their hands, but they have assured me that they are trying to find replacement until they can have full-time officers.
Bartel: As far as the plans that were set last year, how far along are we to getting Henderson County to the point we want to be? Are we doing well on progress?
Caldwell: We are doing well in progress. Unfortunately, we have a budget in mind and building costs, and everybody seems to be building now a days, and when everybody is building, costs go up. So, we’ve had to go back and re-look at some things that we ordered and re-prioritize on some things before we can decide on how to purchase. Right now we are creating purchase orders and throughout this year we are going to start slowly seeing some decent changes. That’s what I told all principals, we need this to be covered because, let’s be honest, a lot of times y’all know more about what is happening in this world than we do. You see things, you hear things. Well, report it don’t ignore it. You need to tell us things, and this gives every student an opportunity to say something without having to tell anybody where it’s coming from, you can report it. I went to all the county schools, and tried to make it like our own. We didn’t buy a thing, we created it in-house and the video in-house using students in our school system. Then teachers showed it to their students. Within seven minutes they had a report from East high saying some issues that were going on. Sure enough, it was dealt with. This is, in fact, one of the most important tools because when you see bad things on social media or hear things on social media because of Snapchat, well not Facebook anymore, and Instagram. I joke around and tell people ‘snapface’ and ‘instachat’ and things like that. But, you know, it’s there, then it’s gone. We have to know in someway, we have to know what is going on and this is truly one of the first things that I wanted to come out. Because if we’re going to stop this, it’s not just what is the superintendent going to do, or what is the superintendent and the principal going to do, it’s what is West High going to do. What is West High going to do to stop it? You know what I’m saying, we are all in this together. And when I say what is West High going to do, for one, if they see something report it don’t ignore it and if they hear something report it down ignore it. And the other thing is this, what is West High doing to make sure everyone is included. Is there a program here for no kid to eat lunch alone? Is there a program here that makes sure we are all in this together or all going to work together and socialize together? Because, like I said, if you go back and look at everything said about school violence and school shootings, it’s usually the lone wolf who is lonely, who feels like they have no one else in their life. So what is West High, and when I say West High I’m using that as example it could also be East High or Hendersonville or anybody, what are we doing as a school system to make sure we don’t have that lone wolf out there. My challenge is to not think about what is the superintendent doing, but what are we doing. Because we’re in this together.
Bartel: Absolutely. I’m glad that the county is putting emphasis on the fact that we are taking more social measures to prevent the lone wolf from even existing. Instead of just preventing the lone wolf from doing any damage. And I think the students are starting to grasp that concept, and I think it’s doing a lot of good things. A lot of students feel better about it.
Caldwell: I meet once a month with the student government from every school, and this is going to be my number one thing, what are we doing as a school. What are you doing as a school, what am I doing as a school or what do you need my help with in your school to ensure that you have a program that makes sure no one feels alone? I had a teacher come up, and this has nothing to do with your report, but I had a teacher in elementary school that said every Friday she let her children write down a name of a person that they wanted to sit beside. Remember, in elementary you often times have pairs, so every Friday she would let the kids down who they wanted to sit beside. So I told her that that was very special that she gave the children the power to make a decision on who to sit beside. She looked at me and said, ‘That’s not truly the reason. The true reason is that I am always looking to see if there’s ever a kid’s name that’s never mentioned. Because if I have a kid that’s name isn’t on the list, as a teacher I must make sure I do everything I can to get that child involved with other children, to get that child to feel like they’re part of the classroom, put that child in leadership roles. Because if I get a kid that no one wants to sit beside, that is the start of some type of situation that we need to avoid.’ Pretty powerful stuff.
Bartel: Very powerful.