By M. Dennis Taylor
The Royal Palm Beach Education Advisory Board met Monday, March 5 at the Royal Palm Beach Village Meeting Hall and featured a comprehensive question-and-answer program on school safety, along with a special presentation highlighting programs at Crestwood Middle School.
The bulk of the meeting was devoted to school safety after the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County.
School Board Member Marcia Andrews and Major B.K. Davis, head of the Palm Beach County School Security Systems Department, were on hand to explain the current situation and answer questions.
Davis said that the district’s safety program, which is designed to protect 197,000 students and 23,000 employees, is “the most robust in Florida” and that the newly adopted one cent sales surtax will provide funding geared for further security improvements.
“Since 1981, the School Police have been a separate division,” Davis said. “From the chief on down, the department is the same as a city of a quarter million people.”
Annually, the department’s nationally recognized training division engages in 25,760 hours of security training, he said.
The department offers a Critical Incident Training for School Administrators course that will be accepted nationally as a best practices program and is open to any certified instructor or administrator.
“It sets a new standard,” Davis said. “Our primary goal is to make sure that each and every one gets home to dinner each night, before anything else.”
School security is a balance between safety and convenience, he explained.
“We could make schools 100 percent secure, but it would take two hours to enter in the morning,” Davis said. “We need to strike a balance.”
He explained that a single point of entry, where everyone is funneled into a single spot in the front, allows administration to control entry throughout the day.
“The best metal detectors are the people feeding the kids breakfast before they leave for school,” Davis said. “Kids often know something… Talk with them, and they will tell you.”
He added that, “The shooting is the effect; the causality is the mental/behavioral issues.”
His department has a unit set up to study these issues, a “Threat Assessment Team” that is bound to secrecy, Davis said. They can meet in private and are immune to the rules that prohibit discussion of an individual’s medical records.
Board Member Renatta Espinoza was concerned after hearing reports from parents that schools were not holding security drills.
Davis related that rather than relying on students’ memories of when a drill was last performed, he had reviewed records of all drills as logged by each school.
“We have two code red, some blues and whites, 10 fire drills and two tornado drills per school year,” he said. “I found 97, 98 percent compliance, and I’m working on the non-compliance. Active shooter training, which is the same thing as code red, goes on at every school.”
Davis said his department’s goal is to have at least one officer per school, and one per 1,000 students. He described the “See Something, Say Something” strategy, including a new mobile app that supports the program and puts students in direct contact with the police department.
He also stressed the importance of all students feeling that they can talk to someone at the school and in their family.
Royal Palm Beach High School Principal Dr. Jesus Armas reiterated the importance of students feeling secure that someone is listening to them.
“If I was offered two more police officers or seven more counselors, I’d take the counselors,” he said.
Armas said he and his school are trying to channel students’ concerns about the Stoneman Douglas shooting into productive actions that would prevent any walkout, which would create additional safety issues.
On a more uplifting topic, Crestwood Middle School Principal Dr. Stephanie Nance, joined by her assistant principals, Martin Pasquariello and Melissa Kaliser, brought “Greetings from the Eagles,” and updated the board on happenings at the school.
Nance explained that the school is comprised of four academies and 735 students who enter the campus each day looking for an opportunity to learn and grow.
“That growth is a mindset, centered around attendance, conduct and sustained academic growth,” she said.
She described the school’s “Students With Amazing Growth” (SWAG) program, and said their goal is for students to do well in high school and to aim toward post-secondary success.
Nance reported that she had just had a meeting earlier in the day and that Crestwood should soon receive Title I financial assistance, which provides additional funding to schools that have high numbers of students from low-income families.
The Royal Palm Beach Education Advisory Board will not meet in April. After the meeting, the board adjourned to a private session to select scholarship applicants to interview.