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State Superintendent revisits UCPS and praises district’s safety and security initiatives

Supt Mark Johnson At the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, State Superintendent Mark Johnson visited Indian Trail Elementary to discuss school safety and security. He praised UCPS’ increased focus on physical, emotional and mental health while simultaneously citing the school district as a “shining example of what is going right around school safety.”

Now, as the school year begins to wind down, Johnson visited UCPS again on May 13 to continue what he says is a daily conversation about the importance of school safety throughout the state.

During his visit to Porter Ridge High, Johnson participated in a roundtable discussion with UCPS Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan and other district leaders, Board of Education chair Melissa Merrell and board member Todd Price, Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey as well as elected officials Rep. Dean Arp, Sen. Todd Johnson and Sen. Dan Bishop. Following the meeting, Johnson hosted a press conference and visited students in classrooms.

“We had a great discussion about the unique programs that Union County has been pushing through locally. The highlight is making sure we let all of North Carolina know that we’re working to get school resource officers and security measures out into our schools. More importantly, we’re working to get the mental health support out,” he said. “I thank Union County for being a leader in this work and a model that other counties can follow.”

Supt. and Mark Johnson During the 2018-19 school year, video doorbells have been added at all UCPS elementary schools, a Union County Sheriff’s Office partnership resulted in the addition of nine elementary school resource officers, and a collaborative partnership with the Union County Department of Human Services has added nine social workers as well as five mental health therapists throughout the district.

“Next year, our proposal is looking at almost doubling that,” Houlihan said. “Over a two-year period, we’re looking at 700 percent increase in the number of experts that are dedicated to all of our schools. We can’t stop there – that area and program is something that we’re going to continue to advocate for.”

Regarding school safety, Cathey said the School Resource Officer program is a great asset to schools and students.

“We think the SROs at the elementary, middle and high schools --  it’s a great program that gives students someone they can talk to, can count on and can look up to,” he said. “This is not something we started this year. We started on this for several years and we work on it every day.”

During his visit, Johnson also praised the school district’s anonymous tip line app as well as school leadership at Porter Ridge High for their implementation of weekly student-teacher meetings. During these meetings, students sit down with a trained staff member to discuss topics ranging from their post-secondary goals to any current challenges or issues they may be facing.

Supt. Mark Johnson with students “The more we as a society can have these conversations and show every person that they have value and worth, the more we’ll be able to change the scenario in our society. It all starts with good local leadership coming to the table and working together,” Johnson added. “That’s exactly what we have in Union County and that’s why Union County is a model for the rest of the state.”

Following Johnson’s remarks, Porter Ridge High senior Camila Moreno said she’s witnessed firsthand the changes in safety and security at her school since arriving as a freshman.

“We know that we’re very privileged to say that we feel safe, but then we look and see what is happening at other schools, you know there’s always more you can do,” she said. “When I started, we didn’t have a visitor check-in management system or even student and photo IDs. Now we do. The shift in the atmosphere has affected physical changes here at our school, and I’m proud of my school and what we’ve done.”

Additional UCPS Safety and Security and Social Emotional Learning Highlights:

  • UCPS/UCSO Elementary School Partnership plans to add additional SROs to elementary schools due to the positive impact on security and student/law enforcement relationships.
  • Federal COPS Grant funding will allow UCPS to install video doorbell systems at all UCPS middle and high schools during the 2019-2020 school year.
  • Two school social workers and two school psychologists were added to UCPS schools with the State Mental Health Personnel Grant funding.
  • Partnership with Atrium Health will provide mental health first aid training during the 2019-2020 school year.
  • Suicide Intervention Training provided for social workers, mental health therapists, psychologists, counselors, and nurses.

View the photo gallery below to see pictures of Johnson’s visit at Porter Ridge High:

Posted: May 13, 2019