After this fall, all six Kenowa Hills Public School buildings will be equipped with more secure entrances. For students like senior Jessie Marentette, that means more peace of mind.
The high school’s new security system has been a popular topic of conversation among her classmates lately, said Jessie, who participates in regular student meetings with Principal Brett Zuver.
“Students haven’t been complaining about the new security, we’re just getting used to the front entrance,” she said. “We talk a lot about things in the news and the security makes us feel safe.”
Part of the district’s $55 million bond passed in 2016, increased security was a major focus in the bond improvements, supported by parents and the school community.
Secure entrances were completed at Alpine Elementary and Kenowa Hills High School last year, and the remaining four buildings will be completed this year. Those wishing to enter any school building will have to buzz in to the main office and check in with staff. Though buzzer systems have been in use at Kenowa Hills for five years, the new system includes updated communication from the person buzzing in to the front office staff.
“The old system relied on camera view points at times and were not interactive with the red emergency button,” said Tim Erhardt, Kenowa Hills school resource officer.
Once all construction is complete, every building will have an enclosed, secure entrance, some larger than others. Without buzzing into the office, there is no way to get into the buildings.
Overall, responses to the security upgrades have been positive, Erhardt said.
“The hardest part is changing the mentality a little bit,” Erhardt said. “There are specific procedures that the school community has to get used to and that will take some time.”
One of the biggest changes following the implementation of secure entrances is the limited use of the back high school doors, previously a student entrance.
“Students at the high school were able to come and go through those doors for things they had forgotten throughout the day,” Erhardt said. “The buzzer would go off all day for students coming in that way.”
The back entrance is now only open at the very beginning of the day. Students arriving late or going out to their cars during the day have to be buzzed in through the front office.
Help from Local Police
Each building has also been equipped with a panic button that shuts down electronic pass access to that school, and with additional camera surveillance courtesy of a grant from the Michigan State Police. “It’s a good layer of extra protection for our students and staff,” Erhardt said.
Erhardt also works closely with officers from the City of Walker for extra manpower.
“There’s an unwritten policy that officers on the day shift will walk through the hallways of the elementary schools and keep an eye on things,” Erhardt said. “This leaves me more time to focus on the middle and high school’s larger populations while knowing in the back of my head that there is help already out there for me.”
Sue Heyboer is one of the three office administrators who control the buzz-in surveillance at the front entrance of the high school.
“There’s definitely a learning curve for students and the community,” Heyboer said. “We’re all really happy about the increased security.”
On occasion, administrators will provide those working the entrances with tips about upset parents, students or other people of interest, though visual assessment is the biggest tool for monitoring entrances, she said.
“There are three of us up front so each of us has a different viewpoint, which is really nice,” Heyboer said. “Hundreds of people come in and out of the office every day so this is all very important.”
Students Meet Regularly
Monitoring mental health is also part of safety protocol at the high school, said Zuver, the principal.
“We have weekly class meetings for students to talk about everything from leadership to big world issues,” Zuver said. “We try to cover as many topics as possible and be there for our community.”
Jessie Marentette said the weekly meetings with her class are popular among her peers.
“We talk about everything at these meetings,” Jessie said. “We can talk about things bothering us or things about our school too.”
Kenowa Hills’ next security step is looking at radios for communication between all the buildings and cell phone signal boosters.
“We’re always looking for ways to make our districts safer, it’s an unfortunate necessity,” Erhardt said. “Having passionate educators, like Mr. Zuver at the highschool and others, makes the school a safer place.”