Lt. Fred Roth with the Alexander City Police Department keeps watch while Jim Pearson students wait to be picked up. | Austin Nelson

Archived Story

‘What if, what if, what if’

Published 12:25pm Thursday, December 20, 2012

Jim Pearson School principal Pam Langford was at home sick when she heard the first reports of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Friday.

“It hits close to home – I couldn’t help but see the faces of our babies here and wonder what else we could do (to improve safety) because they are so precious,” Langford said. “I had teachers call me and say as (newscasters) were describing the school, it was like they were describing Jim Pearson -– they have 600-something students.”

In the Newtown shooting, 26 people were killed – six adults and 20 first-grade children.

“Of course everybody’s heart has been heavy,” Langford said. “I think the incident made our teachers really sit and reflect about how much we love our children, how important they are to us and to what extent we’d go to protect them.”

Langford said incidents like the Connecticut tragedy are why she has focused on increasing school safety since she took the position as principal – and in light of the shooting, both the school system and community are taking strides to make sure children enrolled in Alexander City Schools are safe.

Superintendent Lou Ann Wagoner said the city schools have worked with the Alexander City Police Department in order to have a police presence in each school for the remainder of this semester.

“We are working closely with the police department to make sure we talk with faculty and staff members to be vigilant for anyone or any situation that is out of the ordinary,” Wagoner said. “We are doing everything we can to keep our children safe.”

Langford stressed that to her knowledge no threats have been made against any of the schools.

“We have not had any incidents where we felt threatened in any way,” Langford said.

Mayor Charles Shaw said ACPD officers will continue to be posted at the schools until maintenance workers can secure every exit door at every school.

“The maintenance people think they can repair at least three of schools’ doors really quickly … but there are couple that will take a little longer,” Shaw said. “We will continue to have police there until the buildings are secured completely.”

Langford said she will be making extra strides to ensure students at Jim Pearson are safe in the near future. The elementary school held a lockdown drill on Monday, though the lockdown was originally scheduled for Friday and was moved due to Langford’s illness.

Langford said the school will continue to hold regular lockdown drills when children return for the next semester.

“We don’t notify parents of the lockdowns,” Langford said. “We let the central office know in case parents get wind of it … but we don’t even always let teachers know. We have to make sure we are being proactive and thinking, ‘what if, what if, what if.’”

Langford said she also has cosmetic changes planned in order to secure the halls and cafeteria.

“One change we need to make, for example, is putting a door between the lunchroom and the first grade hallway,” Langford said. “That will make it a bit harder for an intruder. I believe we are going to have keyless doors, and Mrs. Wagoner is checking into getting us a buzzer system. We’re also installing intercom speakers outside to ensure if children are on the playground and we have a lockdown, they’d be able to hear.

“I believe a police officer is going to be here until we get all of those safety issues fixed,” Langford added. “I will say it has been very comforting seeing a police officer out there.”

Langford thanked ACPD Chief Charles Rafford and other officers for their continued work in keeping children safe.

“We appreciate it so much,” Langford said. “We could not do it without them, and we feel like we have a good relationship with them – they practice (safety) all the time, too.”

Langford said she errs on the side of caution where safety of Jim Pearson’s students is concerned.

“I’m a mother, so I always lean toward being cautious, even if I’m wrong or end up embarrassed – it doesn’t matter,” Langford said. “I’m going to put the safety of them first, always. I appreciate parents so much for trusting us – I do feel like our parents trust us and know we do everything that we can.”