By Maddy Vitale
As schools look to improve security measures nationwide, Ocean City is turning to technology to help protect its students and staff.
At the Board of Education Monday night, the district approved a new communication system that will streamline all its technology to give teachers and administration better control of areas such as emergency alerts, the school public address system, security cameras, video and audio from one networked platform, Curt Nath, director of academic services, explained in a presentation.
The installation of a Unified Campus Communication system created by the company AMX would start in the high school with installation in the high school by the summer and then would be put in the Intermediate School and Primary School, he said.
The school board voted to approve hiring AMX to do the work. Funds are set aside in the capital reserve for the project totaling more than $700,000.
School Business Administrator Tim Kelley said the district is excited to be able to introduce a system that would improve student learning, administrative efficiency and district-wide safety without a tax hike on Ocean City taxpayers.
The new system will consolidate video surveillance, access control, monitoring applications, and mass notification through a single portal. The new system would allow the district office to have unified and simultaneous access to and throughout all schools.
Schools Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said it would allow for “real time” communications with the local police department and emergency responders.
“If there is a panic situation occurring or a lockdown, we have to wait for the school to call us,” Taylor said.
That would all change with the new system.
Nath said each teacher would be equipped with a microphone, similar to surround sound, but for the classroom. In addition, the teacher would have a built-in panic button. That way, the teacher could press the button and help would be on the way. It would eliminate the need for rushing to the phone to call down to the office.
“With that panic button, it could be a student fainted,” Taylor said adding that the teacher might not be able to get to the phone. “The teacher can push the button and we can notify the police department and monitor what is going on.”
Everything is controlled through an iPad so that the district could “parcel out” announcements to certain classrooms, Nath told the school board. He added that the public-address system could override a TV in the classroom too in an emergency.
“Say you are doing a lockdown, the system would mute, what you have on. It allows us to control our own technology remotely,” Nath explained.
In addition, the district would be able to broadcast events live in high definition to all district equipment.
The project to upgrade the school technology stemmed from a meeting between the administration and the high school TV/Media program, school officials explained. With the improvement technology came the added security features.
“This project has been in the works and evolving for the past five years,” said Taylor, who noted that this innovative communication system will enhance the teaching-learning process in the classroom by coordinating and integrating the components of the audio-visual systems for each classroom.
Several school board members asked if other districts had a similar system. Nath said Stockton University uses “pieces” of the system. Other college campuses use the system as well. But the Ocean City School District would be the first K-12 school district in the state to implement the full system.
Included in the technology would be ENZO, a classroom presentation system, which makes it easier for teachers to access, present and share information with their classes. The system provides each classroom with instant screen mirroring in which the teachers can share digital content from each student’s tablet, laptop or smartphone. In the event of an emergency, administrators can quickly override all smart boards and post important information.
Nath said the district hopes to have the equipment installed in the high school by summer and then the other two schools right after that.
He added, “It is a process that requires a lot of work.”