A Hard-Learned Lesson

Cost-effective system is part of a larger plan to modify school culture

DO not let the semi-rural setting fool you. Lebanon High School in Oregon, with 1,250 students, grapples with the same problems that plague large, inner-city schools. Located in a region where timber jobs have disappeared, the school struggles with low test scores, high absenteeism and dropout rates, bullying and petty theft. As a result of the Littleton, Colo., school shootings in April 1999, Lebanon High School, like many schools throughout the country, put in place a behavior tracking and modification program that includes zero tolerance for dangerous behavior.

A School Modified
Last September, the school reinvented itself as a complex of four smaller learning communities or academies. With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation small-schools grant and a local school bond issue, the community has transformed Lebanon High School into a safer, more inviting learning environment.

The $10 million renovated campus has an off-the-shelf, scalable surveillance camera system for safety in the parking lots and surrounding streets. The Axis network installation, purchased a year ago, consists of 35 cameras and can be expanded to 48.

The $10 million renovated campus has an off-the-shelf, scalable surveillance camera system for safety in the parking lots and surrounding streets. The Axis network installation, purchased a year ago, consists of 35 cameras and can be expanded to 48. The cameras are located in eight district school buildings, with 25 of them serving the high school. Most of the 25 are in hallways, while a few cover outdoor campus areas.

With this network-based system, administrators and security officers can sit at any computer anywhere in the school district and look through any camera. They can move the cameras where they need to -- inside a classroom or outside in the school parking lot -- and use the cameras to detect and deter bullying, theft, fights, vandalism and students who are skipping school. The goal of the Lebanon High School is not to earn "notches" by catching kids doing something wrong, but to calm the school down and break the cycle of misbehavior.

Smaller is Better
Research suggests that low-income students in good, small high schools pass more courses, graduate and go on to college in greater numbers than those in large schools. Also, students in small schools are far less likely to experience physical danger, loss of property and the demoralizing effects of vandalism.

The four Lebanon schools-within-a-school academies opened in September 2004. Each specializes in a different academic area: living systems, physical systems, social systems and information systems. Based on their interests, students choose an academy and stay with the same group of colleagues and teachers until graduation.

The new camera system records signals whenever there is motion. Since its installation, Dustin Wyatt, the school's resource officer and a member of the Lebanon police force, has recorded many infractions.

One student was promptly arrested for falsely activating the school fire alarm.

"Causing everyone to evacuate the building is dangerous, expensive and destructive," Wyatt said.

In another instance, Wyatt was learning how to operate the camera when he happened to notice a stiletto that flipped out of a car window in the student parking lot. He radioed a fellow officer, and they arrested a student for possessing a weapon on campus.

"Since the kids don't really know what is on tape and what is not, the system acts as a deterrent and helps to stop trouble before it starts," Wyatt said.

Skylight interiors, security cameras and the four small academies are providing a safer, more inviting learning environment. Lebanon is an open campus and students can leave at lunch, but administrators note that they tend to stay on campus a lot more than they used to because the campus environment is safer and more welcoming than ever before.

This article originally appeared in the October 2006 issue of Security Products, pg. 62.

About the Author

Brian Bray is the director of technology at the Lebanon community school district in Oregon.


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