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School security ‘top priority’ for Nashville superintendent

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Doug Graham

By John R. Schirmer

News-Leader staff

There’s a lot going on in the Nashville School District as the 2018-19 academic year begins – two construction projects, new faculty and staff, the usual quest for improved test scores, the list goes.

For Superintendent Doug Graham, however, the number one priority is obvious – school security.

“That’s the top priority statewide,” Graham said, in the light of school shootings in Texas, Florida and other locations.

The issue led Gov. Asa Hutchinson to appoint a commission to study school security and make recommendations on improvements. The panel’s report is due in October.

“We’re waiting for some sense of direction,” Graham said. “In al probability, the state won’t have the funds to finance” many of the recommendations. “Schools will have to do it on their own.”

That’s already happening in Nashville. The district has already spent about a half million dollars on school security, according to Graham. New camera systems have been installed at high school and junior high, along with keycard door locks and other improvements.

Similar work is planned at elementary and primary.

“It’s obvious that we used to try to sell folks on a well-rounded curriculum. Now, we will do everything in our power to protect the kids,” Graham said. “For years as a classroom teacher, coach, principal and athletic director, I was never in favor of an armed presence in the school system. I didn’t want people to first see an armed resource officer when they arrived

at school. I wanted them to walk into a friendly environment.”

Over the last 18 months and going all the way back to Jonesboro, however, “Certainly something may have to come full circle. That’s the reality of the time we live in,” Graham said.

Security expert Jon Hodoway addressed the Nashville faculty and staff Monday afternoon. Graham is looking at other schools to see how they are addressing security in their districts.

With the steps Nashville has taken, “The next progression is the hiring of school resource officers. Probably 75 percent of Arkansas schools have them,” according to Graham.

“I’m torn. It’s a major decision. I may have to come full circle in my 36-year career in education. Security is at the forefront,” Graham said.

Facilities

Two construction projects are expected to be completed during the fall semester, including the agri building at high school and a new bus garage.

The projects “haven’t moved along as quickly as we thought. A year ago, we thought the agri building would be open Aug. 13,” Graham said. “Now, it’s looking like the end of October.”

The steel framework is expected to arrive Thursday, Aug. 9.

The 8,000-square-foot building will cost about $800,000 when furnished. “It will be an outstanding facility for years to come.”

The facility includes two classrooms, two offices and a shop area. “It will offer more opportunities for everything from farming to welding. It will be a welcome addition,” Graham said.

The bus barn will cost more than $700,000. There was a “hiccup” recently when the concrete pad was poured prior to a 1 1/2 inch thunderstorm, Graham said. “That messed up the slab,” and workers spent Saturday morning digging it up so that another could be poured.

Between the two construction projects, the district budgeted $1.6 million from cash reserves. “There was no tax increase or property tax increase. We’re paying cash money for the project. I’m proud we’re able to do that,” Graham said.

Testing

Last spring, the state education department rated three Nashville campuses above average and one average. “That’s always an interesting time. People want the best,” Graham said. “One building was a couple of points from outstanding. The one average building was two students from above average. It’s a never-ending story.”

“We want to try to create a formula where students score well and at the same time not tie the teachers’ hands and teach to the test 178 days. There’s more to education than that test,” Graham said. “It’s a tight rope to get the right formula to score well and teach what the kids need.”

Last year represented “a great job by our teachers, students and parents in preparing for testing,” Graham said.

The district hired a curriculum coordinator at the end of last academic year. Kim Slayton was named to the position after serving as high school assistant principal for nine years. “We’re looking for great things in academics. We’ll have somebody around the clock, 5-7 days a week on curriculum. The school board decided three or four years ago to work in that direction. I commend the board for taking that step.”

Beginning of school

Graham expects about 1,900 students when classes began Monday, Aug. 13. Faculty and staff reported for their first general meeting Aug. 6. At the session, Graham reviewed test scores. He also shared excerpts from the book The Power of a Positive Team by Jon Gordon.

The highlight of the meeting came when Graham unveiled the theme song for the year, “The Champion” by Carrie Underwood, during the Walk of Champions for students who won state and national honors in 2017-18.

Scrapper Stadium announcer Johnny Wilson introduced groups and individuals who won state and national recognition. They entered the high school cafeteria and walked through the faculty and staff, who congratulated them as they passed.

As the new year begins, “We want to keep going in a positive direction,” Graham said.