Kelly Barrera letter to the editor


As your school board representative, the last four years have seen a lot of change and growth in our very dynamic county. In that time, school safety and security have always been a top priority. I have participated in several key safety and wellness initiatives including securing traffic light and intersection improvements on U.S. 1 and Ray Road for the Nease High School community; creation of a school safety zone for Valley Ridge Academy; and the inaugural Health, Safety and Wellness Fair at Ponte Vedra High School, as well as additional improvements at other schools.

In St Johns County, we are ahead of the curve on many security and mental health improvements.

Over the last two years, we have:

·       outfitted all schools and buses with 800mhz radios, which allows for instant communication with law enforcement and emergency responders.

·       spent over $1.3 million on fencing, cameras and additional security improvements.

·       trained all principals and assistant principals on Active Shooter Training this past February.

·       outfitted buses with GPS so that they can be tracked and monitored.

·       conducted several school and district active shooter drills with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office (SJSO).

·       expanded our partnership with Children’s Home Society for Communities in Schools.

·       increased focus on social and emotional learning through professional development for teachers and administrators.

·       strengthened partnerships with the 10 mental health agencies providing support to students districtwide.

            After the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the following actions have taken place at the school district:

·       Superintendent Forson served on the governor’s Safety and Security Roundtable and held his own student focus group to address safety and security.

·       We collected security input at School Advisory Council meetings across the district.

·       Teachers, principals, district leadership and community and school stakeholders participated in facilitated discussions on safety and security.

·       We collected feedback from parents and community members.

·       We held town hall roundtable discussions at Nease High School and Gamble Rogers Middle School.

·       We participated in ongoing Joint School Safety Workgroups with SJSO encompassing policy and procedure/drills, school safety and security, training, communications and legislative actions.

We have been proactive, responsible and deliberate to ensure an increase in our safety and security procedures and prevention protocols to provide the best, most efficient and effective plan going forward.

Over the last several months, we have moved toward a plan that my fellow school board members and I have been able to reach consensus on.

Prevention is a key component to keeping our schools safe. We are adding six additional mental health counselors, two school psychologists and three social workers to expand the staff we currently have in place who provide mental health support. This will not only allow us to work with students within the school environment, but also better connect them to resources throughout the community.

The Florida Legislature has allocated $1.4 million for law enforcement personnel at our schools. With this funding, we intend to provide for the salary and benefits of an additional 16 SJSO school resource officers. We have requested that our County Commission provide one-time funding for capital equipment for these additional 16 officers.

With limited ability to provide school resource officers from SJSO, we have developed a hybrid solution for armed security personnel in our schools. We will dedicate the additional funding needed to procure outside security firms to supplement our need for armed security during the school day.

These accomplishments are a reflection of the great work of our students, teachers, parents, principals, district administration and community leaders; all have come together to work for the best interest of our children, highlighting one of the major strengths of our community to keep our children safe.

Rest assured that our school board and district leaders are dedicated to implementing safety and security measures that are in the best interest of our students, teachers and schools. We continue the ongoing process to assess every aspect of the organization and make it the very best possible.