By RICK CURL
Of The Record Staff
You can add South Johnston High School to the list of academic institutions that have beefed up the way they protect their students.
In light of the horrific attack by a lone gunman at a high school in Parkland, Fla., and an attempt by seven people to make their way into West Johnston High School last week, South Johnston has joined the ranks of more secure schools.
Principal Dr. David Pearce has overseen several new improvements to the security of his school. Exterior doors are now locked, visitors must use the main door and immediately report to the office, students arriving late or leaving early must now sign in and sign out, changes directed at making the school resource officer more visible and more accessible and visitors must all obtain passes.
“It sounds like things we’ve always done,” Dr. Pearce said. “I think it’s reinforcing those decisions that have been key.”
Parents, students and visitors who arrive at the campus are no longer able to enter the parking lot unfettered. They will now be met by a member of the school staff and asked for identification as a part of the new changes.
“Right before the Stoneman Douglas thing happened we were having a dialog about just doing a better job being vigilant,” Dr. Pearce said. “We had already started talking about, can we lock the perimeter doors? Our high school is a very transient campus with students going to JCC courses and courses at other high schools.”
With that in mind, the events in Parkland acted as the final catalyst to implementing more, stringent and effective measures.
“The Parkland situation definitely made us say the time is now,” Dr. Pearce said Monday morning. “We had locked all of our exterior doors except for the front doors. The rest have been locked for several weeks now.”
It may surprise some to find the students were receptive to the idea.”
“I think it’s really important to keep our schools safe because we as students are the future of tomorrow,” sophomore Calli Jon Massengill said. “And not protecting us is like leaving our future empty-handed.”
Calli Jon seems to convey the sentiments of her fellow students.
“I have heard little to no concerns whatsoever about it,” Dr. Pearce said. “Our students have really embraced it well. I’ve even noticed students going around making sure there’s no rocks in doors or things that could have happened in the past. So, it’s been a proactive response.”
“I’m 100 percent behind it,” senior Michael Castro said. “The only place you can walk in is through the office … the entire school is completely safe now.”
Michael said he feels safer despite not really being concerned until the events took place in Parkland, Fla., West Johnston or the false reports in the aftermath.
“I was never really worried about it until it was so close to home with the recent threats,” he said.
If nothing else, Friday’s events at West Johnston were a wake-up call for sophomore Austin Denning.
“Especially after the recent events of a month ago and last week at West Johnston,” he said when asked if he felt more secure in school. “It really means a lot to have an extra couple of security steps.”
In addition to the safety measures there’s another level Dr. Pearce would like to see broached — the involvement of his high school in a discussion of all aspects of the subject. Whether it’s a discussion about gun laws, mental health issues or other factors, Dr. Pearce said students have shown an interest in having debates about related topics.
“I’ve had students come to me and say we should have debates about gun control, we should have debates about mental health,” Dr. Pearce said. “And to be honest with you, I think there is a time and place in education for that to understand how you have civil discourse and how you create change without creating chaos.”
Dr. Pearce goes on to credit his students for sparking things such as the currently ongoing Unity Week at the school. A week to honor the victims of school violence and to bring the students and the school closer together as a whole.
“I’m motivated by our young adults in this school who are saying I agree with this piece,” he said. “Let’s just unite as a school and agree our school should be safe. And we agree if we’re united and talking to each other, people won’t feel within our school community the need to hurt us.”
‘The Parkland situation definitely made us say the time is now.’
— Principal Dr. David Pearce