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A look at school safety one year after Sandy Hook

By David Kaplan, dkaplan@wdbj7.com
Published On: Dec 13 2013 04:43:52 PM EST
Updated On: Dec 13 2013 07:29:08 PM EST

Schools in Roanoke have spent a lot of money this past year improving school security.

ROANOKE, Va. -

Saturday marks one year since the murder of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  The tragedy put gun control and school safety in the  spotlight.

What happened that Friday morning a year ago is any administrator's worst nightmare.

Whether they had safety upgrades in the works prior to the shooting or made changes because of it, most administrators say upgrading school security is money well spent.

"The number one thing is to make sure our kids are safe," says Roanoke County Schools Operations Director Marty Misicko.

"The very first day I stood in front of a classroom I understood the responsibility I had for other people's children," said Roanoke City Schools Superintendent Rita Bishop.

No matter who you talk to, they all agree: A good learning environment has to be a safe one.

Roanoke County Schools has spent 5 million dollars this past year improving school security.

"Cameras, visitor system, passkeys and security of all our doors. All our staff now has to wear an ID constantly, all adults have ID's," said Misicko.

To even get to do these interviews with school leaders, visitors have to go through a system that most school districts in our area have implemented.

Misicko pointed out that most older schools are architecturally designed to allow people in.

Now, controlling and knowing who comes in and out is the first line of defense.

"We want people to come in but they have to be more secure. And it really is a change in the design and philosophy where schools were in the past where we're welcoming and we're still welcoming, but we're more guarded then we were in the past," Misicko said.

In Roanoke City, Superintendent Rita Bishop says every safety measure  implemented in the past year and a half was planned before the Sandy Hook shootings.

The city schools have spent a half  million dollars on safety, mostly paid for with grant money.

"I believe that the schools are as safe as we can make them," said Dr. Rita Bishop.

As important as physical improvements are, administrators we spoke to say the most resounding impact of Sandy Hook was heightened awareness.

"I just think the vigilance is much improved. You can train how to behave in a lockdown. You can't train vigilance," Bishop said.

Both Roanoke City and Roanoke County School officials pointed out that a strong working relationship with police is also vastly important.

I'm told by many other school leaders if they didn't already have a good relationship, they do now.

In terms of smaller school districts, implementing those visitor management systems and being more conscious about locking doors are the biggest changes.

Some school districts really want to put full time School Resource Officers in each school, but the funding isn't there at this time.