Swipe card system and cameras on buses effective in HCPS security, committee says

The swipe card student monitoring system in two Harford County high schools has been "highly successful," according to the Safety and Security Citizen Advisory Committee's report to the Harford County Board of Education at its meeting Monday night.

The committee, along with others for career and technology education, family life education, gifted education and special education, presented annual reports to the board with findings from the previous school year, as well as recommendations for the upcoming year during the board's work session meeting. Nearly all of the committees asked for more funding and/or staffing.

The controversial swipe card system implemented at Bel Air and Edgewood high schools, requires all students — and teachers — to have an ID card to swipe through electronic readers upon entering the school. The readers record and send the information to the student's teachers.

Dave Hobson, the committee's chairman, told the board since instituting the swipe program school secretaries, who recorded attendance throughout the day, now have time to "execute other duties, such as monitoring detention, tardiness and absence excuses."

Teachers, Hobson went on, are also benefiting from the program. They are able to begin classes sooner, he said, because they don't spend as much time recording attendance or accounting for late student arrivals.

Board member Robert Frisch said he was concerned about the students having two swipe cards — one to enter the school and one used during lunchtime.

Superintendent Robert Tomback said that having only one card for both systems was "something we would like to do," but different vendors are serving the two systems. Integrating the two is something the board is pursuing.

Alysson Krchnavy, a school board member, said she was skeptical of the swipe card system at first, but her high school-age daughter "has no trouble using her swipe card."

Video surveillance on 13 Harford County Public Schools buses have also been "very effective in resolving issues with a high degree of confidence," Hobson said.

HCPS buses with the cameras are equipped with three: one above the driver, one aimed toward the back of the bus and one in the back pointed toward the front, the committee's report said. The cameras also have night vision, audio and GPS, which records the bus route, the bus speed, when lights are activated and when the driver applies the brakes. Video footage is available for about two weeks.

An example the report gave of the camera system's effectiveness involved an incident when a driver had difficulty controlling a group of middle school students. Footage taken by the cameras showed "unsafe and inappropriate behavior by students on the bus," the report read. The driver's management techniques were also shown. Ultimately, there were interventions for the students and driver and a resolution was reached.

School resource officers have also been beneficial to the schools, Hobson said. The committee reported that information shared by the officers have helped both in solving and preventing incidents. Feedback from teachers, students and parents has also been positive.

The committee recommended that each program be continued throughout the 2011-2012 school year, and that the swipe card system be expanded to other high schools, based on funding availability. The effectiveness of each program will continue to be under review.

Board member Nancy Reynolds asked if either Hobson or Bob Benedetto, chief of security for HCPS, had any data that would justify the cost of the programs.

"We're still exploring it," Benedetto responded. There is data available, however, about the number of students who receive detention, tardiness and unexcused absences, he added.

Career and technology education

Susan Garrett, the staff liaison for the Career and Technology Education committee, and committee chairman David Kohlway made several recommendations to the board, including moving the CISCO Networking Academy from Joppatowne High School to Harford Tech and utilizing the John Archer School, when vacated, to expand program offerings.

Career completer programs are offered at all of Harford's 11 high schools, Kohlway said, with concentrations in arts, media and communication, business finance and information technology, health and human services, science, engineering and technology and career research and development. There are 31 programs in total.

The committee's focus has moved from preparing students with trade specific skills to academic and technology education "to be successful in a wide range of career opportunities," Kohlway said. About 79 percent of students in grades 10 through 12 are enrolled in career and technology programs.

The committee set before the board several short-term, mid-term and long-term goals.

Goals the committee hopes to reach within one to two years, the report said, include partnering with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) to pilot Project Lead the Way middle school pre-engineering program, move the CISCO program from Joppatowne to Harford Tech to replace the computer and networking technology program and partner with APG Federal Credit Union to offer a student-run credit union at Edgewood High School.

Goals hoped to be met in three to five years are increasing the number of students accessing Project Lead the Way biomedical sciences program by funding a program specialist at Bel Air High School and/or expanding the program to different schools and implementing pre-engineering and broadcast technology programs at select high schools, the report said.

The committee's long-term goals, the report went on, are to expand the automotive technology program at Harford Tech, using John Archer to expand programs, move the homeland security sciences and criminal justice/law enforcement studies from Joppatowne to other schools, moving the computer aided design and drafting program from Harford Tech to other schools and expanding the quality and quantity of programs offered.

Frisch told Garrett and Kohlway his biggest concerns were moving the CISCO program from Joppatowne to Harford Tech and removing the homeland security program "would cut signature programs from Joppatowne." He added that doing so could discourage people from attending the school.

Kohlway explained that this was not the committee's intent, but rather to elevate the program to a magnet location.

"We want to expand. We need to do something with that [program's potential]," Kohlway said.

"I don't think it would be wise to separate the two," Frisch responded, mentioning that "maybe it's time to reevaluate the purpose of what Harford Tech is." He added that needing a second school to handle these programs is "not a fiscal reality."

"Would we like funding? Absolutely, but we can do without it," Kohlway said.

Family Life Education

The Family Life Education Citizen Advisory Committee works with the health department, Upper Chesapeake Health System and other agencies to promote family life and human development education, as well as HIV/AIDS prevention, in elementary, middle and high schools.

"This group is the one that decides what materials are used," Garrett, the staff liaison, said about the curriculum's instructional tools. These materials, she added, must be reviewed, approved and have results published annually.

In its report to the board, the committee recommended four actions to support and strengthen the program.

Garrett said the committee's short-term goal was to move the family life and human development unit for seventh grade to health classes from science, as the content would match the curriculum better. This would, however, depend on the state's curriculum guidelines, she said.

Tomback said his recommendation is "to sit tight at the moment" as the state may have "significant changes as to the way we teach science."

Since "eight out of nine middle schools already have certified health educators," the report said, "only one additional position ($47,000 a year) would be needed to staff the remaining middle school."

The committee's long-term goal, Garrett went on, was to have six middle school health teachers added over a three-year period. Each position, the report detailed, would be at $47,000, for a total of $282,000.

The report also recommended having an administrative staff position, at $90,000 a year, with the person "providing instructional and administrative leadership for the comprehensive health education program K-12, including family life and human development content."

An additional $2,000 in funding was also recommended for buying and compensating guest speakers.

Board president Leonard Wheeler brought up the recent spotlight on bullying, especially directed toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning community. "Does your committee represent those diverse points of view?" he asked.

Garrett replied that it does come up in the committee's discussion and in the materials they review.

Ginny Popiolek, who is on the committee and was in attendance Monday night, said: "Bullying issues are something we need to address in our schools."

Gifted and talented

Eric Cromwell, coordinator of the accelerated learning programs for HCPS, gave the preliminary results for a survey that asked for parents' thoughts and concerns with the program.

The survey, which aimed to inform the public of the program, was open to Harford County parents and was posted on the HCPS website, Facebook page, Twitter account and was e-mailed to the parents in its database. So far, Cromwell said, there have been 1,250 responses since the survey began Sept. 2, with a high concentration of responses coming from participants in Bel Air.

The most notable result from the survey, which is still available online, was that 30 percent said their child gets gifted and talented services at his/her school, 41 percent answered no and 29 percent didn't know if services were offered at the school.

"We know we are challenging the students," Cromwell also found from the survey's results. Communication was the top thing parents would change about the program, he added.

The committee will conduct regional public forums in January to discuss the results more in depth, as well as conduct student interviews to hear their feedback.

"Without sugarcoating things, it looks like we need some work," Vice President Rick Grambo said. Cromwell responded that the committee hopes to "get the real meat" of the parents' thoughts on the program during the public forums.

Special education

Chuck Masters, chairman of the committee and the father of a child with special needs, stressed the importance of having available resources — online and off — for Harford's parents who want support and knowledge about special education in the schools.

Since "the schools don't always know the information that would be available to that parent," Masters said there needs to be more than just the one person-manned Partners for Success group and the committee to help parents.

Masters said the committee created its own Facebook page that it uses to post information, and has been partnering with special education citizens advisory committees from Cecil and Baltimore counties to "come up with different ways to get the word out."

Masters said the committee's recommendations were to add more staff for the Partners for Success resource center, have more means of giving out information (a resource link on the HCPS website, literature to be offered, etc.) about the center and the advisory committee.

When Krchnavy asked if the committee had worked with the public information office to provide information to parents, Masters said: "I always ask about that and it's never happened." Krchnavy added that it's best if the committee's information is under HCPS website and Facebook page, rather than have its own, so branding is consistent.

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