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Board hears school safety presentation
Environmental Site Assessment for new elementary school gets OK
Effingham County Schools

SPRINGFIELD — The Effingham County Board of Education wants to push all the right buttons when it comes to school safety.

During its June 8 meeting, the board listened to a presentation by Centegix, a company that specializes in providing secure environments for learning through technology. Centegix’s CrisisAlert platform has been available for school districts since 2019.

“I want to make sure that we don’t leave any stone unturned,” Superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford said before Centegix representative Brent Coleman started his sales pitch. “That’s why we started the process of looking at things that are out there and available. Some of them may be very good and some of them we may look at and say, ‘Well, that’s not something that we want to do.’ ”

Ford uttered his remarks while Safety and Energy Education Manager Ashley Kieffer was updating the board about the level of safety in the Effingham County School District’s 13 schools. Kieffer streamlined the district safety plan by eliminating lengthy narrative explanations about how to respond to various situations in favor of short lists designed to reduce reaction times.

The superintendent said, “I think we have been very proactive (about safety) over the years but I also think it is extremely important that we never get complacent.”

Coleman touted the virtues of CrisisAlert, which saves valuable seconds in all emergency situations.

“It is all about response time,” he said.

Coleman noted that, thankfully, schools are unlikely to have an active shooter. Preparations still have to be made for them and other scenarios, he said.

“You’ve seen the data from school nurses,” he said. “About seventy percent of them say they deal with a life-threatening emergency.”

Coleman said one in four high school students have been in a physical altercation and 6 percent of teachers have been attacked.

“Most threats on teachers are real so every second matters,” he said.

CrisisAlert allows for lower response times by equipping school personnel with badges that feature buttons that send alerts to telephones and computers. Depending on the number of button presses, alerts can be limited to a school or sent en masse to first responders.

“I really can’t think of anything faster than that,” Coleman said. “... If I see a gun, if I hear something. I press the button and in a second or two the right people are notified at the building level, the district level, lights are flashing, there is an intercom message, computers take over and then you have ability to also go to law enforcement.

“Mr. Kieffer made a great point (earlier). If you are behind a locked door, your chances of survival is basically one hundred percent. 

“So how fast can we get people behind locked doors?”

Coleman said CrisisAlert has a record of saving lives. He mentioned recent episodes of a Florida elementary school student who stopped breathing at recess and one in Alabama who choked on a rock. He also noted a Florida high school student who “flatlined” in class after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

“I could go on and on but these are the types of situations that happen,” Coleman said. 

Safety is an important factor in teacher retention and recruitment. Teachers tend to prefer the badge system over traditional options like wall-mounted panic buttons or radios.

“This is the most common comment I hear from superintendents, also from principals, ‘My teachers feel safe,’ ” Coleman said. 

Coleman said CrisisAlert is growing in popularity.

“We’re in about half the districts in the state already,” Coleman said after his presentation. “We will probably be in at least three thousand schools by the time the kids come back in August.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Earlier in the June 8 meeting, the board approved an Environmental Site Assessment for a parcel on Blue Jay Road near Blandford Crossing. The property will be home to a new elementary school.