By Sarrah Peters
Gadsden City School District students returned to class on Monday, August 6, and new superintendent Tony Reddick spent the first two days of class out and about. He visited nine schools on Monday, where he personally welcomed back teachers and students. On Tuesday, he spoke with the Gadsden City Council before visiting the remaining three schools in the Gadsden City School system.
At the Gadsden City Council work session, Reddick addressed his top concerns as the new superintendent and discussed the council members concerns.
Reddick said that while reading comprehension, absenteeism, and career and college readiness are all issues, his top concern was school safety.
“First and foremost, without a safe school environment, none of those things are really possible,” said Reddick.
Reddick said that school safety is a big concern around the nation, mentioning the multiple high-profile school shootings that recently took place in the United States. He said that “we are very blessed” that nothing like that has occurred locally.
“Small towns like Gadsden have a tendency to think that those kinds of things can’t happen to us,” said Reddick. “That’s where cities make a mistake. They think it can’t happen and are not prepared. I have a proactive attitude about this, not a reactive attitude.”
Reddick proposed several measures that could improve school safety, including reinforcing doors, adding more cameras, adding school resource officers and adding metal detectors. Reddick said that fostering communication between teachers and students that so that the teachers might catch the social and psychological indicators of student who might be planning an attack was important. He encouraged reinforcing student-based security measures like not opening school doors to let someone in.
Reddick said that he and Gadsden City High School Principal Keith Blackwell, who disguises himself, will test whether or not they can get students to open doors to let them in a building. When students don’t open the doors, Reddick said that he tracks them down and rewards them for doing what they were supposed to do in that situation.
Another concern mentioned was the ease of leaving campus at Gadsden City High School
Councilwoman Cynthia Toles asked Reddick about communication with parents when a threat is made, referencing a recent incident. Reddick addressed the concern by explaining the procedure the school system follows in that instance, where a team assesses and addresses the threat and the system has a call out to parents.
Afterwards, during the Gadsden City Council meeting, Mayor Sherman Guyton announced that the council was awarding $200,000 for the school system, that is earmarked solely for improving school safety.
Reddick discussed the new reading comprehension program myON for the schools. He also talked about helping kids that want to be in school get there when home circumstances prevent them from attending.
“I used to be one of those kids,” said Reddick. “I stole bus money to go to school. It was from my brother, and he beat me up for it, but at least I got to school.”