At The Front Of The Class
Urban Virginia grade school modernizes with high-tech access control system
- By Jumbi Edulbehram
- Nov 01, 2012
Grade schools aren’t often early adopters of
cutting-edge surveillance technology, but St.
Mary’s School in Alexandria, Va., is an exception.
With the safety and security measures it currently
has in place, the school is definitely outpacing
most educational institutions.
St. Mary’s is a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade elementary
and middle school located in urban Alexandria, just outside of Washington,
D.C. The 700-student Catholic school occupies two aging but
renovated buildings that separate the elementary school (pre-K
through fifth grade) and the middle school (sixth grade through eighth
grade). As a private school, particularly one in an urban area, St.
Mary’s doesn’t hold back when dealing with the safety of its students
and strives to make sure its private-school structure remains protected.
Time to Upgrade
St. Mary’s recently sought to upgrade its access control system to better
control admission to school facilities. The perfect opportunity presented
itself when officials decided to renovate one of the school’s buildings and
upgrade another that was built more than a half-century ago.
Janet Cantwell, principal of St. Mary’s, also wanted to reduce the
cost and complexity of having to distribute, collect and keep track of
staff members’ keys. Collecting keys at the end of the school year and
replacing lost keys was, she said, "very labor intensive."
To complicate things further, the school often grants access to parish
groups that use the facilities after hours. Through the remodel, St. Mary’s wanted to be able to lend out access-granting badges that
could simply be deactivated once the user no longer was using
the facilities rather than having to keep track of the traditional
keys and replace any lost ones.
“We really wanted to be sure of who was coming and going,”
said Heather Syracuse, St. Mary’s information technology director.
“We needed the flexibility to temporarily grant access to organizations
that ‘rent’ our facilities without having to ask them to return
their key later.”
Finally, due to its urban surroundings in the bustling D.C. area,
the school also sought to increase the reach of its surveillance system
to ensure student safety and to more quickly respond to emergencies.
School officials wanted to have better views of the playground,
parking lot and surrounding streets to detect any
“We strive to provide the ultimate level of security for our students
while also remaining visitor-friendly and maintaining the
character of the school,” Cantwell said. “We saw the opportunity
with Next Level to do something more, to bring our system to a
more current level and modernize our approach to technology.”
The Perfect Fit
After much research, officials at St. Mary’s found the NLSS Gateway
3000 from Next Level Security Systems to be the ideal platform
on which to build a stronger security program. The NLSS
Gateway is a security management system that integrates networked
video management, IP access control and video analytics
into a single unified solution. This unique approach allows data
from traditionally separate subsystems to be correlated without
custom integration while making combined data available
through a single, intuitive user interface. Combining the applications
into one appliance gives users a comprehensive view of
their entire security operation, which was what St. Mary’s administrators
were looking for.
Now, the NLSS Gateway manages the school’s nine Axis Communications
cameras, as well as the HID Edge readers that are
used to secure the facility’s many access points. This fully integrates
and simplifies the school’s access control and video surveillance
into one, easy-to-use solution. And, the NLSS Gateway even
provides a Web interface for off-site user access.
This type of advanced security system is rare in the school security
world and makes St. Mary’s ahead of the curve in terms of
student and staff safety.
“Integrating their surveillance with cutting-edge access control
makes St. Mary’s a pioneer in private school security,” said Next
Level Chairman and CEO Pete Jankowski. “Combining all available
information into one easy-to-use platform enables users to
make more informed decisions, even if they have a small staff,
leading to safer environments.”
And as the school grows, the new security solution can grow
“The flexibility and versatility of the Gateway is the perfect fit for
our needs today and into the future,” Syracuse said. “We required
a system that would meet our need to simplify access control and
video management and provide an opportunity for us to scale the
system as needed.”
A Welcome Change
Today, St. Mary’s staff members are issued badges for accessing the
facility. The school’s cameras monitor any students who are traveling without a faculty member, ensuring their route is safe and
identifying them at access points to allow the staff to buzz them in.
In addition, when outside parish groups use the school’s facility
during off-hours, St. Mary’s can issue a temporary access card that
cannot be copied and does not have to be recollected, so it runs no
risk of being lost.
Students and staff feel more secure—and staff members appreciate
the system’s ease of use.
“The streamlined access control system was really a big selling
point for us, as well as its immediate correlation with the video
management piece. That’s what we really wanted,” Cantwell said.
“It’s so much easier now to see people come and go, and further
ensure the safety of our staff and students.”
In addition to the NLSS Gateway, St. Mary’s also installed an
NLSS HD Media Decoder with a 32-inch flat screen monitor in the
administration office for visiting parents to view. The decoder is a
networked media appliance that can display multiple HD video
streams simultaneously to a single monitor in a variety of layouts.
The appliance provides staff with a clear view of the video streams
from the Axis IP cameras, and it can be controlled remotely
through the Gateway Web interface. For parents, this visual representation
of the school’s focus on security is a reminder of the
administrators’ effort to modernize technology. It has already triggered
a positive response.
“We get a lot of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ when they see the video display,”
said Ann Ross, the office manager at St. Mary’s. “We’ve traditionally
been very conservative, so the deployment of the NLSS
Gateway has been an exciting change for us.”
The students have taken notice, as well. They can clearly see that
they are being monitored and have shown appreciation for the
“We use our cameras to monitor the playground at recess, and
the students know the cameras are there,” Syracuse said. “Sometimes
they’ll stop whatever they’re doing and perform for the camera.
They can’t see themselves, but they know we can, and it’s unbelievably
The school is still in the early stages of its security makeover and
plans to implement additional upgrades soon. St. Mary’s staff
members have found that Next Level’s easy-to-use platform not
only enhances their response time but that it also comes with a
support team that is easy to work with.
“The Gateway is very easy to use, but we have needed help on
occasion, and their technical support is exceptionally responsive,”
Syracuse said. “We strive to be the best of the best in everything we
do, and Next Level’s intuitive product has launched us into a whole
new level of security for our school.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Security Today.