Monday, 05 August 2019 17:27

Richmond County Schools hosts first Safety Forum

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 Willette Surgeon, principal at West Rockingham Elementary School, informed attendees on the safety measures they provide at their elementary school. Willette Surgeon, principal at West Rockingham Elementary School, informed attendees on the safety measures they provide at their elementary school. Photos: Richmond County Schools

HAMLET — Richmond County Schools will be rolling out the “Say Something” system — an anonymous reporting app created in partnership by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and Sandy Hook Promise available to schools statewide — this 2019-2020 school year. 

This app was one of several topics discussed during Richmond County Schools’ first School Safety Forum Monday afternoon. 

Made up of administrators, board members, principals, parents and local law enforcement, the group discussed what Richmond County Schools has done in regards to school safety and where the district wants to move in the future. 

“This is just the beginning,” said Superintendent Jeffrey Maples. “This is not a one and done thing. It’s all of us coming together to make sure our students and staff are safe. There are a lot of moving parts and layers when it comes to safety, but I can assure you that this is just the beginning of conversations we will have.” 

Dennis Quick, associate superintendent for auxiliary services, led the discussion by comparing Richmond County schools “then versus now.” He discussed school violence at a national and local level — referring back to past incidents at the high school — and lessons they’ve learned from the lockdowns. 

“I don't want us to put our heads in the sand and act like it won’t happen to us,” said Quick. “Let’s get our heads out of the sand. Let’s face the reality that there are people who don’t have the same regard for life like we do, and we have to keep that in mind.” 

Quick also made note of things that have worked in the district including relationships with law enforcement, parents, students and teachers, police in the schools, surveillance cameras in the buildings and on the buses, safety audits, tabletop scenarios, emergency drills, panic alarms, controlled access door systems, body armor for the Special Police Force and advanced trainings. 

“The relationships we have with students, parents, administrators and law enforcement help steer off possibilities of violence,” he said. 

In addition to hearing from Quick, principals Willette Surgeon from West Rockingham Elementary School, Karen Allen from Hamlet Middle School and Assistant Principal Alan Parker from Richmond Senior High School informed parents of safety measures taking place in their buildings. 

Parker shared that during their monthly safety meetings at the high school, they will have students come in to share what they know going on inside and out of the building. 

“They see things that we might miss,” said Parker. 

Parents also had the opportunity to hear from Dr. Wendy Jordan, director of student services, about mental health and how it ties into social/emotional learning and Chief Ricardo Leak of Richmond County Schools’ Special Police Force. 

“We have to remain vigilant in everything we do,” Leak said he tells his officers. “We have to remain visible because it will deter a lot that happens in our schools. And if something or someone looks out of place, they probably are. If you see something, say something. 

“Each child who comes through our schools, is like one of my own,” Leak added. “And I want them to feel safe.” 

Parents were encouraged to leave feedback from the meeting that will be used in addressing school safety concerns moving forward and how they’d like to see Safety Forums structured in the future. 

“As a parent, I really enjoyed getting a weekly call letting us know what takes place at the school,” responded one parent. “Also, always getting calls when there were incidents or issues happening at the school. It was helpful as a parent to be informed.” 

“I’m happy to hear about the strong partnership with law enforcement,” responded another parent. “I appreciate efforts being made to equip schools with multiple layers of safety measures.” 

Maples hopes to plan another School Safety Forum in the spring. 

Hamlet Chief of Police Tommy McMasters, Captain Randy Dover, Sheriff James Clemmons and Chief of Richmond County Schools' Special Police Force Ricardo Leak were all present during the School Safety Forum Monday afternoon. Also in attendance were County Commissioner Ben Moss and Board member Pat Campbell.