Capitol Report, a publication of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE), recently featured a GCPS presentation made to Georgia’s Senate Study Committee on School Safety. Leading up to the 2019 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly, the committee is traveling around the state to gather feedback from parents, teachers, students, agencies, and school and district officials about how the state can support school safety efforts. (The committee was created through Senate Resolution 935 during the 2018 session.)
The state senators made a stop Sept. 18 in Chamblee where Dr. Steve Flynt, associate superintendent for School Improvement and Operations, spoke with the panel.
Here’s the full report from PAGE:
Gwinnett County Public Schools Shares the District's Safety Strategy
J. Alvin Wilbanks, superintendent and CEO of Gwinnett County Public Schools, introduced Assistant Superintendent Dr. Steve Flynt to committee members to explain strategies used by the district to protect students.
GCPS covers an area of 437 square miles northeast of the city of Atlanta in a county with approximately 900,000 residents. With 179,719 students, GCPS is the largest school district in Georgia and the 12th largest district in the United States. There are 140 schools in the district.
The district welcomed 12 new school resource officers (SRO) in 2018 to bring the total number in the district to 89. Each of these SROs is a sworn police officer. GCPS places a special emphasis on ensuring these officers maintain relationships with students in their schools so students will be comfortable reporting any disruptions or threats to the officers.
The district also employs 21 social workers, 380 school counselors, 57 school psychologists, 13 registered nurses, and 139 clinical workers. GCPS’ Office of Student Discipline and Behavioral Interventions houses five full-time hearing officers and 14 certified district hearing officers.
The district utilizes several emergency management systems including an emergency notification system (ENS) with icons installed on specified school staff computers. A visitor management system is also in place in each school to track each visitor who enters a school building. Each school also has a localized alert system for use when notifying local emergency officials is not necessary. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio is monitored in every school in the district during operating hours. GCPS has a network of over 9,000 cameras backed up to a central server. The district also provides in-house burglar alarm and fire alarm monitoring systems and back-up generators for schools.
The SchoolMessenger notification system is used to alert parents and students in the case of an emergency. The mass communication capabilities of the district also include website alerts, an emergency call center for the public, and video and print production capabilities. Each classroom in the district has "call-back buttons" and the ability to communicate with the front office via a public address system and internal communication systems that operate using 400 MHz radios.
To address school climate issues, the district currently has 97 schools participating in the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program with the Georgia Department of Education. Since implementing the PBIS framework, discipline referrals in these schools have declined by 30,295. In-school suspension days have decreased by 10,815, and out-of-school suspensions have decreased by 23,813. GCPS also uses other different types of training programs and initiatives. Dr. Flynt highlighted the following:
Stop the Bleed
21st Century Comprehensive Counseling focused on bullying and harassment
First Aid, CPR, and AED training
Committee members asked Dr. Flynt if the school system has shared its model for school safety with other districts in Georgia. He replied that districts throughout the state share successful programs with each other often. When questioned by Sen. Millar on how GCPS has addressed gang violence in schools, Flynt explained that the district hires SROs who often have a background dealing with gang violence. The district places strict expectations on students to keep any gang-affiliated activity out of schools.
Sen. P.K. Martin asked what type of support could be given to school counselors who are often overwhelmed with large caseloads of students even in a big district like Gwinnett County. Flynt described the training program used by GCPS on an annual basis to provide support to counselors, but also explained that the district constantly finds gaps in this training.
Sen. Jeff Mullis asked how smaller, less-wealthy districts could tackle some of the problems that Gwinnett presented, specifically if districts should be allowed to use ESPLOST for school safety improvements. Dr. Flynt explained that in Gwinnett, the needs of the district require all ESPLOST funds to be used on capital improvements but that other districts may not be as limited.
Throughout the year, GCPS will continue its focus on Safe, Secure, Successful Schools, sharing information with families and school staff members about this important topic. Find Dr. Flynt's PowerPoint presentation on the committee’s website.