(This is the second part of a multiple-part series on measures to constantly improve school safety on Lincoln Parish campuses this year.)
By Malcolm Butler
As area youngsters head back to their respective schools this week, parents can feel assured that much thought, planning and preparation has been put into making the Lincoln Parish campuses as safe as possible for the upcoming year.
And according to Lincoln Parish School Board Superintendent Ricky Durrett, the goal of keeping our area kids safe is always at the forefront of preparation for a new school year.
“First and foremost is the safety of our kids and making our campuses as safe as possible,” said Durrett. “We are always working on that. We try to improve what we are already doing or figure out a better way to do things every year.”
And that’s exactly what Tim Nutt has spent a lot of his time on – both in the past and this summer. Nutt is the Lincoln Parish School Board child welfare and attendance officer.
“I did a safety audit of every campus this summer with each principal and the members of the (Lincoln Parish) Sheriff’s Office; those that are in charge of our Student Resource Officers,” said Nutt. “We walked every square foot of every campus, starting with the exterior and then going through the inside. We had a conversation with every principal sharing ideas that can help us improve our security.”
Every school year, tragedies make national headlines, much like the one at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in late May where 19 students and two teachers were fatally shot.
And strike fear in every parent, teacher and community.
Although Nutt knows the importance of keeping the parish campuses safe, he also points out that schools are still a safe place.
“Statistically speaking, a school campus is still one of the safest places a (kid) can be,” said Nutt. “But when a disaster happens on a school campus, it is much more publicized. It just gets so much more attention when it’s on a school campus. And it’s understandable. It’s our job to put measures in place to prevent it from happening.”
One of the best preventative measures is the Student Resource Officers.
Every Lincoln Parish campus has a Student Resource Officer (SRO) on campus each and every day, something that Nutt said is a huge part of the safety equation.
“That’s the single greatest defense in terms of some potential disaster involving an intruder,” said Nutt. “I think we are in our third year of having one on every campus. We hired additional officers. It’s a cooperative agreement between the (Lincoln Parish) Sheriff’s Office and the school board. There is at least one officer dedicated to each campus from bell to bell.”
“We appreciate the dedication of our SRO’s and the Sheriff’s Department,” said Durrett. “It’s a commitment they have made to help us with that and it’s a big part of the equation.”
So, what was the over-riding focus this summer when it came to school safety on Lincoln Parish campuses?
“I attended a conference in Baton Rouge on school safety and learned a lot,” said Nutt. “The vendors come out of the woodwork with certain things right after a disaster like what happened at Uvalde and you get caught up in wanting to spend a lot of money. Our focus is not just on investing money in fencing and cameras and SROs, but in training. Everybody on that campus needs to know what to do and how to react and react quickly.”
“Is there something that we can do better?” said Durrett. “Is there something we can add? Is there another security measure? We want to make sure we are solid on what we are doing and how we can keep every campus a little bit safer.”
Ruston High principal Dan Gressett knows the importance of the student body and the teachers and administrators feeling safe throughout the school day.
“School safety is a huge priority for everybody,” said Gressett. “We try to implement things every year that improve our school safety. If a kid doesn’t feel safe at school, then there isn’t a whole lot of learning going on.
“We want them to feel comfortable at school. We want them to feel safe at school. We want them to feel like this is a place where we have their best interest at heart. In this day and age, whatever we can do to improve our campus we want to do it. You can’t afford to overlook any of those steps.”