BOONE — Last week, Watauga County Schools received two school safety related grants from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction that are set to fund additional school nurses and school resource officers for the district.
WCS received $66,667 from the state that, along with matching funds of $100,000 from the Watauga County Board of Commissioners, is slated to fund two additional sheriff’s deputies to act as school resource officers that will split time between county schools.
The district is currently served by three SROs, one each at Watauga High School and Blowing Rock School, as well as a WCSO Deputy who serves all the county’s other schools.
Watauga County Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott said the grant would allow the district to come closer to its goal of employing a school resource officer at each of the its nine schools.
“I greatly appreciate the additional funding from both the county as well as the Town of Blowing Rock,” Elliott said. “When these funds are fully implemented, we will have five SRO positions as opposed to the two we had last year.”
Watauga County Schools also received a $115,200 School Mental Health Support Personnel Grant that will allow for the hiring of two additional school nurses in the district. Once brought on board, the new positions will expand full time nursing coverage to Valle Crucis, Parkway and Cove Creek schools in addition to those already existing at WHS and Hardin Park.
Bethel, Mabel, Green Valley and Blowing Rock schools will be served by nurses splitting time between each school.
Elliott said, accounting for new full time positions and split coverage, each school would have access to a nurse for at least part of every day. Elliott said the change was a huge improvement for students across the district.
The DPI school safety grant funds come on the heels of a concerted effort within Watauga County Schools to address safety and security issues. In its budget for the upcoming school year, the Watauga County Board of Education funded the placement of two new school counselors. The new positions have been added to Hardin Park, which will now have three counselors, and Parkway, which will have two school counselors. Watauga High School will continue to have four full time counselors and the smaller K-8 schools will continue to have one full time counselor each.
Elliott said the new counselor positions were made possible through increased local funds from Watauga County Commissioners as well as increased funds from the state made possible by the districts’ enrollment growth.
In addition to new nurses, counselors and SROs, Watauga County Schools has also looked to its facility needs to improve safety.
Over the summer, the district installed new double entry vestibules at each school, improved security video coverage and added a new visitor management system that requires every visitor to produce a photo identification when visiting a school.
Elliott said the new procedures would change some of the ways in which parents and visitors interact with the school when they come on campus, but wanted to emphasize that parents that parents and visitors continue to be welcome at any of Watauga’s schools.
Elliott said he asked for the public’s patience when they visit schools so the new safety measures can do what they are intended to do: keep students and staff members as safe as possible.
“We are trying to take a comprehensive approach to the wellness and safety of our students,” Elliott said. “It is important that we do everything possible to care for the physical and emotional needs of our students while also providing them with a safe and secure learning environment. It has to be a well-rounded and balanced approach.”