Magazine article District Administration

EYE ON ACCESS: Districts Automate Visitor Management Systems to Enhance Security and Efficiency

Magazine article District Administration

EYE ON ACCESS: Districts Automate Visitor Management Systems to Enhance Security and Efficiency

Article excerpt

Todays more sophisticated visitor management systems allow K12 leaders to get a better handle on who's trying to enter (or leave) their buildings--including tardy students.

Lobby kiosks can perform automated and instant background checks, screen guests, and issue badges. This process can immediately identify registered sex offenders and alert staff to parental custody issues, among other concerns.

And all of this information can be shared in real-time among schools and administrators.

Along with installing hardware and software for advanced verification, administrators must ensure that staff know how to use the new systems and that visitors, particularly parents, are aware of new procedures and policies.

Such a platform can change the security culture of a district, such as at Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, which recently installed new visitor management technology in nearly 200 buildings.

"School and center administrators are [now] more confident in their visitor screening procedures, as are parents with the efforts to provide a safer learning environment for their children," says John Torre, Fairfax's public information officer

Transition coordination

Visitors to Henry County Public Schools used to wait in line to sign in--or sign out--on a piece of paper at a building's front window. "This relied heavily on each visitor providing accurate information and remembering to sign out," says Monica Adams Hatchett, the Virginia district's director of communications and organizational learning.

The paper system also presented privacy and recordkeeping challenges. Visitors could see other names on the sheet, and the daily logs created voluminous piles of paper.

Since the district transitioned its 14 schools, central office and an educational center to an automated Ident-a-Kid system, visitors now use a kiosk in an outer lobby to sign in and print badges. Once visitors have checked in, a staff member buzzes them through the main doors.

At the beginning of implementation, the district publicized the system on its television show, which runs on social media and local cable. It also sent information home to parents, and designated a transition coordinator at each school to assist visitors for the first week the new system was in place.

The technology also allows staff to compile visitor reports. For example, a principal can quickly find out how many volunteers were in the school during a day, week, month, semester or school year. Previously, a staff member had to collect that information manually in a time-consuming process, Hatchett says.

"Though some [of our] schools have only had the system in use for a short time, we are already realizing time-saving benefits with attendance recordkeeping and school volunteer engagement," Hatchett says.

A big district's solution

Some years ago, Fairfax County Public Schools--one of the largest districts in the U.S.--mechanized the badging process at all of its buildings to eliminate paper visitor logs and more quickly screen for registered sex offenders.

Administrators also wanted all school sites to have access to the same visitor databases and applications. So the district installed ScholarChip's comprehensive, single-platform visitor management system districtwide.

"Our biggest challenge is keeping unauthorized individuals from accessing buildings during regular school hours, when student and staff populations are at their peak," says Torre, the public information officer.

As part of the nearly three-year implementation, the district developed email notifications that alert everyone in a school if an unauthorized person tries to enter. To ensure a smooth transition, in-person training sessions were held for designated staff.

Those representatives then trained other employees at their buildings. The district also makes web-based training available and provides follow-up sessions when needed. …

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