Senior staff writer
Beech Grove Schools Superintendent Paul Kaiser is among school administrators who have a dilemma they thought they would never face: How to keep today’s students safe in the aftermath of school tragedies, including those in Indiana.
“When I started teaching 40 years ago you worried about kids getting into fist fights and who was smoking in the restrooms, but it’s a much different path that we take to make decisions in schools today,” Kaiser said. “We have to make sure the kids make good decisions. Resources up front with counseling services to identify students who are at-risk is a better way to spend those funds.”
Kaiser, in his ninth year of leading the district, met several weeks ago with Beech Grove Mayor Dennis Buckley to review safety steps that also involve police and fire departments and emergency medical response.
A portion of the $8.8 million referendum in 2015 enabled the district to make front entrance improvements and secure doors that restrict entry and enhance student safety. In June, more internal/external security cameras were installed at the high school, the first step in making sure visual monitors are in place at all schools. Beech Grove police officers are at the high school and middle school daily with officers at elementary schools as needed with the goal of having a patrolman in each building.
The cost is shared 5050 by the school corporation and police department. The value of having a police officer in the schools has many benefits beyond safety. “If the kids overhear a potential threat, then they already know that officer in school or on the street,” Kaiser said. “The officer at the high school knew those students at the middle school. The students can meet the officers in school; if they know them, they are more likely to go to them.”
Kaiser and Buckley are planning more joint meetings with the public to discuss school safety steps. A building-by-building analysis will become part of the district’s comprehensive plan for school safety. Kaiser said the district will accept Gov. Eric Holcomb’s offer for handheld metal-detecting wands but cautioned that funds are needed for additional counselors and officers.
“His offer is a one-time situation; we will take advantage of it. Human capital is more important than a device to do that. “We have a great relationship with Beech Grove fire and police but getting where we want will take time. Safety really comes down to that personal relationship among student, teacher, officer\ and administrator.”
In looking at building needs, Kaiser said Hornet Park Elementary would become an early childhood center, South Grove would have Grades 2-5, and Central Elementary would become a sixth-grade academy, hopefully by 2022. The longtime educator has taught at Monrovia, Eastern (Greene County) and Decatur Central schools and has been an administrator at Noblesville and Monrovia school districts.
“The people – that’s what stands out about Beech Grove,” he said. “The support from the community as a whole for everything that takes place in Beech Grove Schools is fabulous.”