Highest Honors

Networked system gets top scores at New Jersey high school

THE quality of academic programs has become a significant competitive factor among high schools in recent years. This is particularly evident in top private schools like St. John Vianney High School in Holmdel, N.J., a co-ed, Catholic high school operated by the diocese of Trenton. At St. John Vianney, the institutional program is geared toward college preparation, offering honors, advanced placement and special needs courses available in all disciplines. At a 98-percent college placement, it’s clear that St. John Vianney has made a commitment to providing academic excellence.

Education in the age of technology increasingly includes the use of computers as a tool for research, organization and study. Since not every student has access to a computer at home, many schools are beginning to provide computers, along with books and desks for students to use. After speaking with other schools that have made the commitment to laptops, the administration at St. John Vianney High School made the decision to pilot a program for the 2005-2006 school year. Under the supervision of Susan Conrad, technology coordinator at St. John Vianney, the network was upgraded to include wireless access throughout the building. And for the first time in school history, an entire class of incoming freshmen were issued laptops.

Increased Concern
With the addition of 500 laptop computers came new concerns about security in the building. Overseeing the process of equipping the school, both with the new computers and with a new security system, was Principal Joseph F. Deroba.

“We looked at products from a number of companies, with special attention to systems that offered network capabilities,” Deroba said. “With Panasonic Security Systems, we liked the fact that the system was not computer dependent, but self-contained digital. This meant that we would still have video surveillance if our servers shut down. The images also are accessible over the Internet, which gives flexibility to managing the output.”

For the design and installation of the video surveillance system, St. John Vianney turned to Sectegra. Company President Joe Lonardo had been working with the school since 1996 and had installed wiring for the school’s new computer network via another company he owns.

“We proposed three different solutions,” Lonardo said. “St. John Vianney decided to develop the system in phases, beginning with a 16-camera, single DVR solution for phase one. We designed coverage for the main entrance of the school, plus all the corridors where lockers and classrooms are covered – basically the entire academic wing. All of the cameras are vandal-proof.”

Because of varying lighting conditions throughout the school hallways at different times of the day, Sectegra designed the system to use different types of cameras that highlighted equipment strong points, including flush-mount and day/night capabilities. School officials also were concerned about eliminating common backlighting problems and achieving exceptional images in highly contrasted lighting.

“Sectegra helped us solve sun glare issues in some of our corridors by specifying the use of super-dynamic cameras,” Deroba said.

Camera Placement

In interior areas where light levels are consistent throughout the day, vandal-proof cameras are installed. The camera designation includes the “Ready Tuff” element, which is essential for placement in the sometimes-challenging school environment, to ensure the cameras withstand any adverse treatment.

“The heart of the surveillance system is a 16-channel DVR,” Lonardo said. “The DVR is located in the school’s server room, and the monitor and controller sit prominently on the desk of Brian Grimm, dean of students and director of security. All components of the system are connected to the school’s network, so Deroba also can control and view the cameras from his office. The system provides full functionality from network interfaces.”

The DVR employs dual-compression modes to record the best possible picture quality for each camera while conserving space on the hard drive. The unit provides more than 500 lines of horizontal resolution, making it ideal for use with high-resolution cameras, and offers a high refresh rate for optimal control and recording of PTZ cameras.

“We installed a system controller and color monitor at St. John Vianney to control and view all 16 cameras,” Lonardo said. “This allows us to monitor all 16 cameras individually or in any multiple of four—including all 16 cameras simultaneously.”

Added Benefits
Although the acquisition of 500 laptop computers provided the impetus to install a video surveillance system, the functionality of the system has been an asset to St. John Vianney’s administration in other ways.

“The surveillance equipment has helped to alleviate some of our security concerns for lockers in the academic wing,” the principal said. “It also is useful for clarification and verification of any other incident that may occur within our school community.”

Shortly after the system was installed, the school experienced a bomb scare—unfortunately not an uncommon event at any school in current times.

“The administration used the video surveillance system to make sure the school was cleared and all the students were safe,” Lonardo said. “Afterwards, school officials were able to review the recording and use it to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of their evacuation procedures. The video surveillance system helped lead to several changes in this policy to help ensure the safety of all students and faculty.”

“We are satisfied with the reliability and versatility of the video surveillance system,” Deroba said. “With recall features that are both responsive and simple to use, it’s easy to retrieve data from the system.”

Administrators at St. John Vianney are already looking to Sectegra for the second phase of their installation.

“Phase two is now in the design process,” Lonardo said. “It will incorporate another DVR with additional cameras for the school cafeteria, gymnasium and also outdoor perimeter surveillance, including parking lots. With the addition of a low-light camera, we’ll be able to capture license plates as cars enter and exit the school parking lot.”

St. John Vianney has made a commitment to bringing a new level of technology to its curriculum with the integration of laptop computers into their educational model. Now with the installation of Panasonic technology for video surveillance, the school has extended its commitment by providing students with a safe and secure learning environment.

About the Author

Del V. Salvi is a freelance writer based in New York.

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