District 161 moves toward hiring private security at Parker

  From left, District 161 Superintendent Dana Smith, 
  Parker Junior High School students John Lampley, 
  Evelyn Cunneen, Daena Harris and school board 
  Vice President Stephen Paredes. The students were 
  among nine Parker students selected for a conservation 
  internship sponsored by the Homewood Science 
  Center and Izaak Walton Nature Preserve.
  by Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Flossmoor District 161 took a step Monday toward hiring a private firm to provide security at Parker Junior High School this fall.

Superintendent Dana Smith said the district had reached out to several security firms, and the next step will be to publish a formal request for proposals. He said the current plan is to have the firm selected by the end of August and begin work in October.

Until then, current security staff will remain on the job. 

The move is part of a plan the district has been developing and discussing for the past five months that aims to increase consistency and safety at Parker, in part by clarifying roles.

Staff members in a new position, student support aide, will be responsible for developing positive relationships with students and will be trained at de-escalating conflict when it occurs. The job will  focus on preventing problems, according to Smith.

Security guards will be there to back up student support aides and to step in if prevention efforts fail.

"Security guards will not interact with students," Smith said. "They are there in case there is a potentially dangerous situation. If there's a fight, we expect security to step in."

The board of education held a public hearing on the subject at the beginning of its regular meeting, and several people expressed concerns about the plan to replace existing district security staff.

Erica Brownfield asked for more specifics about the training contracted security guards will receive. She said she works in schools and is concerned that security guards will not be prepared to deal with junior high school students. 

Henry Howard, who said he has extensive experience as a police officer and security guard, also expressed skepticism about putting private security guards in a school. 

"Dealing with adults is easier than dealing with kids," he said. "Vet them before you give them a contract."

Board members Stephen Paredes and Cameron Nelson assured the audience that the district shares the same concerns and goals.

"Everyone here agrees with you," Nelson said. "We're optimistic we're going to start off on good foot."

Smith reiterated that the plan is designed to address those concerns by assigning the primary role for interacting with students to the student support aides. Teachers and staff will all be trained in the Capturing Kids' Hearts program, which is intended to give them skills in relationship building and conflict resolution. He said the contracted security staff would also receive training appropriate to its role.

"Hopefully nothing serious happens, but we want to make sure we have security in place to keep everyone safe," he said. "We need to see different results in that building."

Parker teacher Dee Mannes spoke on behalf of the current security staff and expressed regret that they will not continue in their roles after October.

Smith agreed that current security staff members are fine people, but said the new approach required a change in staffing. Currently, security staff consists of retired public safety personnel and one state trooper. 

In other business, the board recognized nine Parker students who have been selected to serve in a conservation internship sponsored by the Homewood Science Center and the Izaak Walton Nature Preserve. 

Three of the students were present to be congratulated by the board. They were introduced by Principal Fred Hunter. 

The students in the program include Evelyn Cunneen, Daena Harris, Brooklyn Inovskis, Chidera Ozoh, Jane Ermshler, Kevin McGregor, Julian Edwards, Isabella Egomwan, John Lampley and Kristian Yarbrough.


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