At Val Verde Unified School District in Riverside County, California, security and vigilance is everyone’s job, says Christopher Wynn, Chief of District Security. “Although my department is the most visible part of our security plan, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure the safety of our students. It’s our job to make sure the kids and staff feel safe because in order for the educational process to occur, everyone has to have a feeling of safety,” Wynn says.
Wynn has established a three-part system as a basis for the security plan he uses within the district. The first is using high-visibility deterrents such as uniformed security personnel and signage, “things that people can see to help them take security seriously in our district and know that there are security measures in place,” he says.
Access control is the second piece of the security plan. “We use an electronic lobby management system that monitors every visitor that comes in and screens them for sex registration status,” says Wynn. The district also employs a locked gate and locked classroom policy while school is in session. “We are basically in lockdown status at all times, which can save precious time in an emergency,” he says.
Preparation and training make up the third part of the security plan. Wynn’s department has done training on both active shooter and predator prevention for the entire school district.
Having your classroom doors locked at all times means there needs to be balance. “We don’t want to have a jail environment,” says Wynn. “We have to take all of these principles and implement them in a manner so it doesn’t feel institutionalized. That’s the trick – having good, solid security principles, but not creating a jail.”
Wynn says every school district has its unique security challenges. “For my own part of the sector, being responsible for 20,000 students and 2,000 staff members that are spread out over 21 locations and 20 miles can make security management complex because you can’t be everywhere at once,” he says.
Ensuring that security systems are in place and staff members are trained and able to deal with the many types of safety and security concerns that come up is another challenge, says Wynn. “Everyone focuses on active shooter, and that’s important, but there are a lot of other security concerns too, like unwanted people on campus,” he says. “Human nature is to fall back into complacency because we forget about security when things go right.”
Implementing critical technology such as electronic lobby management, into the district has been one of Wynn’s primary focuses. The district has implemented a new video management system and is significantly upgrading its security cameras and moving toward an electronic access control system. “We’ve done a tremendous amount for reconfiguring our lobbies,” Wynn says. “We’ve put in physical barriers, glass store fronts, reconfigured counters to create natural barriers and reconstructed entry points to make them still open and welcoming, but not immediately accessible to our sites without being granted access.”
The district administration is very supportive of the security program and sees it as an evolving process. “Safety and security is a priority and always has been,” says Wynn.
Likewise, the feedback from parents in the district has been supportive and complimentary. “We do a lot of positive PR work out of our district office, and every time we do, whether it’s a message home to parents about traffic safety or whatever, I always get many emails from the community thanking us for the work we’re doing,” Wynn says. Still, he acknowledges there are always going to be complaints. “I take every complaint seriously and look at it. What can we do better?” As of now, the security department doesn’t have any formalized surveys or tools to measure security’s value, but Wynn uses his interactions with staff, parents and community members as a measurement tool.
Staff complacency and staying informed on technology are the most difficult parts of the security department’s job. “There is a new product in my email inbox every day,” says Wynn. “Keeping up with technology and vetting out what’s applicable to a school district is difficult.” He also has to make sure the technology the district does integrate isn’t too complex. “If it’s hard to operate, no one is going to use it.”
Wynn’s favorite part of his job is when graduation rolls around each year. “Knowing that you’ve been a part of a process that these kids have gone through and that you have created an environment for them to be safe and to learn and get their education is a humbling experience,” he says.
- Annual Revenue: $165 Million
- Security Budget: $2.2 Million
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