After announcing plans to hire new safety and security staff members and to use new security software programs over the summer, Evanston/Skokie District 65 gave an update on those efforts to the Personnel, Buildings & Grounds and Finance Committee during its latest afternoon meeting Wednesday, Sept. 14.
The additional safety measures are designed to prepare students, staff and families “for the apparent spike in violence that has been observed around the nation as well as in schools,” according to a memo presented to school board members by Assistant Superintendent of Operations Terrance Little.
The security protocol developed by Little’s team involves hiring a concierge for each school building, who will greet and track visitors, while monitoring the exterior of the building throughout the day, Little said.
Additionally, the district hired a Manager of Prevention and Special Response, Samuel Muniz, who will supervise all the concierges and coordinate preventive measures and the district’s actions in emergency situations.
Muniz will also work with an assistant manager of prevention and special response, who is set to start work on Oct. 3.
As of Wednesday, 13 concierges have started their roles with District 65, and three more are finishing up the onboarding process, according to Little.
“Being proactive, rather than reactive, is the intention,” Little told the committee. “We frequently hear about situations where schools and districts discover their mistakes, or what they should have done, after the fact. If there’s a tale to be told, we hope it is one of prevention and readiness.”
In total, the 16 concierges will cost the district $480,000 this year, according to the final budget for Fiscal Year 2023 that Business Manager Kathy Zalewski also presented to committee members on Wednesday. Muniz’s salary is $110,000, and the assistant manager of prevention and special response will make $86,000.
This year, the district added 46 new positions, Zalewski said, and most of those positions fall under safety or equity, including the concierges and special response coordinators. Some of the other new roles include additional diverse learning specialists, special education teachers and educators trained in teaching English as a second language.
Overall, the district is spending just under $3 million to fund all of the new jobs, according to the budget. Back in April, the human resources team informed many teachers about reassignments to new schools or new positions so the district could reduce staffing numbers without having to fire anyone, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Andalib Khelghati said at the time.
Those efforts allowed District 65 to save an estimated $1.8 million by cutting 25 jobs through retirements and resignations, according to Khelghati and Zalewski. The cuts also allowed the district to tie staffing numbers to enrollment, which has dropped by nearly 1,000 students over the last three years and was projected to decline by another 58 students this year.
However, at the board’s first regular meeting of the year in August, Superintendent Devon Horton said the district’s enrollment on the first day of the new school year was 6,592 students, up from 6,393 students enrolled last year. That makes this fall the first time enrollment has increased between school years since 2016.
And in August, after the district first unveiled its plans to create these new positions, Chief Financial Officer Raphael Obafemi and Zalewski said that savings from moving the substitute teacher program in-house – rather than contracting an outside company to provide substitutes – will fund the salaries for the new security staff.
That change will save the district about $1 million in overhead costs that were previously paid to the contracting company for things like recruitment, hiring and training substitute teachers, according to Zalewski.
Yet, just three years ago, the school board voted to outsource substitutes through a contracting company, which then Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Beatrice Davis said would be “cost-neutral.”
Additionally, Little announced that the district has officially bought and implemented software programs Navigate360 and Hall Pass. Navigate360 is an app and software program that will have an archive of updated photos showing every hallway, door and classroom in district buildings so law enforcement and staff can figure out where to go more quickly in the event of an emergency.
There are no specific line items for the exact costs of the software in the budget.
Concierges will manage Hall Pass, which is a program that tracks visitors as they enter and exit school buildings so the school is aware of every person in a given building at any given time. Evanston Township High School already uses the same platform to give out visitor badges and log any movement into or out of the building.
The district is also launching a pilot program for Smart Tag at Chute Middle School starting in November, Little said Wednesday. Students at Chute will have a photo ID card through Smart Tag that allows them to check in on an iPad that their assigned bus driver will have, and then the app will track that student from the time they board the bus until the time they get off.
If the pilot at Chute is successful, the district plans to bring Smart Tag into the elementary schools that feed into Chute, according to Little. If all goes according to plan, the security team hopes to have Smart Tag rolled out at every school by February 2023, Little told board members.
“What we’re trying to do is provide a person who’s going to be responsible for making sure that teachers and administrators have everything they need when drills happen, or, God forbid, something happens, so someone can take the leadership to make sure things are in place for the safety of our students when they’re exiting the building,” Superintendent Horton said. “Last year, there were just some missing parts to our safety process that are critical, so this [concierge] is going to make sure those things are there, and we have someone who can be accountable.”
Also related to safety, the district hired design and construction firm Cordogan, Clark & Associates to install new LED lighting systems in 11 schools across the city, and those improvements are nearly done, staff announced Wednesday. The new lighting also extends to the exterior of most buildings, hopefully making night events or after-school activities feel safer for students and families, Director of Operations Tierre Brunson said.
“The lights are phenomenal, and the exterior lights, specifically,” Committee Chair Joey Hailpern said. “As a safety thing, just being able to illuminate everything so when people have evening events, they have safe passage to their cars, it’s great.”