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Coffee with Principals offers insight into school safety

Brent Baker, second from left, discusses recent steps Loper Elementary has made in school safety during Friday morning’s Coffee with the Principal at Hendricks Elementary.

By ROSS FLINT - rflint@shelbynews.com

From the time he steps foot on the Hendricks Elementary School campus, student safety is at the top of Deryck Ramey’s mind.

It’s a different world from the time Brent Baker started his career in education, the Loper Elementary principal admitted Friday morning.

In the aftermath of school shootings around the country, including one in Noblesville at the end of last school year, and bus accidents, including one in northern Indiana one month ago that ended the lives of three young students, safety has been at the forefront of educators’ minds.

Ramey, the first-year principal at Hendricks, hosted a Coffee with the Principal event in the cafeteria on Friday morning to discuss school safety. About a half dozen residents, including Mayor Tom DeBaun, as well as Hendricks staff members attended the gathering.

The morning offered an opportunity for the two principals to share a little insight over coffee and donuts into what Shelbyville Central Schools is doing to keep students safe.

Without revealing too much that could put students at risk, the two touched on various topics, from a new app that SCS has started to use that informs teachers if there is a threat in the building, to building relationships with local first responders, to new cameras being installed across the district.

“It definitely is a whole different ballgame,” said Baker, who serves as one of the district’s safety specialists along with Director of Special Education Andy Hensley. “I think Andy and I almost feel like we don’t have enough hours in the day to commit to school safety, just because it is non-stop.”

One area Baker has focused on in recent years is building a relationship with local first responders.

Over the past few years, Loper has invited first responders to cookouts. Baker grills hot dogs and burgers and local police officers and firefighters are invited and encouraged to mingle with students at lunch.

Ramey said he’s made an effort in his first semester at Hendricks to invite first responders to visit the school. Loper has made similar efforts.

Loper has also set up an area for police officers to work as a way to get them in the building – and Hendricks plans to do the same.

The positives in doing so are two-fold, he said. First, it increases the school’s security when officers are walking the hallways. And it puts “a friendly face with a badge in front of the kids,” he said.

“I think we all know that sometimes some of our students see a badge and it’s a traumatic day in their lives,” he said. “I think if we can welcome them in on a Tuesday and just sit down and read a book, or walk through the cafeteria and tell a joke, that’s a positive thing. We’re kind of starting to institute that a little bit.”

Two recent developments in the district are new cameras being installed at each school and a new app called the Rave Panic Button.

Ramey said the new cameras being installed are a lot more clear and can identify license plate numbers. He said Hendricks officials have identified “hot spots” to place cameras that could pose a threat.

The app is already being used at the high school. It allows for teachers and administrators to discreetly inform every cell phone in the building of a threat, similar to an Amber Alert.

And it provides their precise location for first responders to know where to go when called.

Through his work as a safety specialist, Baker cited studies that found shooters do not waste time trying to break through locked doors. In that regard, he believes Shelbyville Central schools are safe, noting the lock down devices on doors can hold 1,100 pounds of pressure.

“(Shooters) don’t waste time trying to shoot through the door,” he said. “They don’t waste time trying to break glass. It is, what door can I get into? Gunmen don’t mess with locked doors. They don’t. They go, doors locked, next door. Door’s locked, next door. That’s what they do.”

SCS is also getting ready to hire a couple more retired police officers, which will create a larger presence throughout the district, Baker said.

Ramey also believes Shelbyville Central Schools are safe.

“Being someone who’s worked in multiple districts, in terms of school safety, Shelbyville is just kind of on it,” he said. “We are very, very prepared and forward thinking. I think you’re always trying to improve and change and update, but I’ve never been to a district that’s had more people a part of the process than we have.”