James Logan High School, located in the San Francisco Bay Area, spans a large city block and has about 4,000 students attending its classes. Earlier in the year, some of those students made news—two for organizing a fundraiser for disaster relief in China and one for being among the winners of a national scholarship award program. That’s the way schools hope their students make headlines. Unfortunately, another Logan student, 14-year-old Vernon Eddins, also made the news late last year—in that case, it was because he had become the latest victim of gang violence, which has been growing in Union City, where Logan is located.
Although the fatal shooting of Eddins did not occur at Logan, it gave impetus to discussions already underway at the district level for improving security at the school, which is the main high school in the New Haven Unified School District. And while the initial plan—pushed by parents and some staff members—was a modest proposal to put up some parking lot surveillance cameras, the district decided instead to take a much more comprehensive approach. The way the district carried out the project offers lessons for schools nationwide.
Rather than simply putting up cameras in response to parental concerns without clearly assessing additional security needs, the district brought in a team from Bradenton, Florida-based GE Security to conduct a thorough security assessment of the high school.
Raymond Lauk, a former school superintendent who is now the education solutions manager at GE, and Paul Baratta, a former chief of police and director of public safety who is a senior security consultant at GE, were charged with conducting the assessment, which took about three days. The team focused on environment, access, detection, response, and the security culture. They began their work by interviewing key district officials and certain staff members at the high school.
“The overall purpose is to develop an assessment of the people, issues, all of the process issues, which we define as procedures and policies, and all the technology issues at the school,” says Lauk.
Lauk and Baratta walked the campus day and night, looking for issues such as how well-lit the campus was. Another important aspect of the audit was to talk to the students. “We want to get the students’ perspective on safety and security—what’s important for them,” says Baratta. They also wanted to collect data about use, such as what times students showed up in the morning.