North Allegheny ramps up school safety, security
North Allegheny School District has taken steps to keep its 10,000 students, faculty and staff safe and secure. This is in response to the rash of school shootings across the country in recent years and Gov. Tom Wolf’s new Act 44 legislation to tighten school security throughout the state.
Since the school year began, uniformed police officers from the Township of McCandless Police Department have been permanently stationed as school resource officers at the senior high school and intermediate high school. Last month, the school board hired its first manager of school safety and security.
“We want our kids and staff members to feel safe coming to school every day,” Superintendent Dr. Robert Scherrer said. “That means not only feeling safe physically but feeling safe emotionally, too.”
Michael Evanish, 51, of West View, was hired as manager of school safety and security on Sept. 26.
He has 26 years of experience in security management in both the U.S. Coast Guard and the private sector. He was a Coast Guard commander for an anti-terrorism team which exposed, prevented and responded to terroristic threats. He also has held various supervisory positions in law enforcement, military outload, and site safety and security, including the management of a security program in two West Virginia public school districts, where he conducted active-shooter training.
Evanish was one of 75 applicants for the position at NA.
“What stood out about Michael was his experience. We felt there was a skill set and experience level that was strong. Plus, as we talked with him and got to know him, we found him to be very student-centered,” Scherrer said.
Evanish will oversee NA’s Comprehensive Safety Plan to address emergency preparedness.
“I want to train more people -- including students -- so everyone understands what their role is,” he said.
Evanish’s salary is $79,000.
NA’s new full-time school resource officers are Mike Metzger and Todd Ray.
Metzger, a 25-year veteran of the Town of McCandless Police Department, is assigned to North Allegheny Intermediate School. He will monitor bus pick-ups and drop-offs, patrol the halls, and monitor the classrooms. In addition, he will teach lessons about drug and alcohol awareness, vaping issues, and the ramifications that come with making bad decisions. He also will keep the faculty updated on trending drugs and other relevant topics.
“My mere presence is a deterrent for all types of issues that schools are dealing with -- drugs, alcohol, and safety concerns. My being here gives overall peace-of-mind to kids when they see me in the hallways and parking lots,” he said.
Metzger has brought the K9 unit to the school to sniff for drugs on occasion. But the dog does more than hunt down illegal substances.
“It puts the staff and kids at ease. It’s an extra sense of security. The kids love the dog,” Metzger said.
Todd Ray is the McCandless police officer stationed at the senior high school.
He will cite traffic offenses on school property, perform routine walk-throughs of the interior and exterior of the building, and provide a calming presence.
He already has gotten involved with the NA Chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and has taught relevant lessons in physics classes (how an electronic nonradar device calculates the speed of a vehicle) and history classes (the Second and Fourth Amendments, which address the right to bear arms and the protections against unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause, respectively).
“Having a trained police officer on the premises makes a huge difference in the event of an emergency,” Ray said. “Most situations are over in one or two minutes. With an officer on site, we can act instantly.”
Metzger and Ray will work closely and collaboratively with NA’s administration and building principals but, ultimately, they will report directly to the McCandless police chief.
To help offset costs of these newly enhanced security measures, NA has received two state grants from the state Department of Education totaling $80,000.
“We’re the only district in the region to be awarded two different grants,” Scherrer said.
One grant, for $60,000, will help pay for the security resource officers.
The other, a Program Grant for $20,000, will help create a more positive school climate by encouraging students to cultivate healthy relationships and participate in school activities so they feel a stronger connection to the school community.
In the past five years, NA has spent an estimated $2 million to improve security in its 12 school buildings, according to district officials. This includes the employment of three security guards at the high schools; training for emergency crisis response teams from each of the seven elementary schools, three middle schools, and two high schools; the addition of exterior and interior surveillance cameras on each campus; the installation of panic buttons throughout each school building; and secured exterior doors with visual and audio monitors, to name a few.