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Education

Hillsborough students returning to higher security campuses

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Published:   |   Updated: August 16, 2013 at 04:54 PM

TAMPA — Hillsborough students and parents can expect tightened security as they head back to class next week, with controlled access about to be the norm at all 215 district schools.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said Friday that 85 percent of schools now feature a single campus entry point, and modifications will be completed at all schools in the next six to eight weeks.

“We don’t want people to think we don’t want them on our campuses, but we need to know who is on our campuses,” said Elia, addressing teachers, school board members, and an internet audience during of the district’s annual back-to-school news conference at Graham Elementary.

The school board called for the increased security measures in the wake of a series of school shootings, including the December killing of 20 students and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The upgrade will cost about $1.6 million.

Students and parents will be seeing more gates and security cameras.

“Families need to know that when their children go to school, they will be safe,” Elia said.

The superintendent also warned that the state’s transition to the national Common Core standards would continue to ruffle feathers; elementary and middle school grades dropped around the state during the last assessment period as students took tougher tests.

“As we change standards, you are going to have changes in how performance looks,” Elia said. “It doesn’t mean that our students aren’t as smart, it doesn’t mean that our teachers aren’t working really hard with them, it means that we’re expecting higher standards, and our students have to grow to those standards.”

She said a new state education secretary will have to bridge the interests of superintendents, teachers’ groups and parents, and make sure “everyone has a clear understanding about how the accountability system is doing.” Superintendent Tony Bennett resigned earlier this month in the wake of a grade-fixing controversy in his home state of Indiana, and Pam Stewart has been appointed interim secretary.

“I’ve always been particularly focused with what happens at the state level, because it affects us,” Elia said.

Meantime, the district also unveiled new children’s cafeteria trays that could help them plan and recognized balanced diets. The color-coded trays indicate where students can place items from the fruit, vegetable, dairy, grain and protein groups to build a healthier lunch.

“I think they’re going to have fun picking out things and matching them up,” said Carlton Bailey, student nutrition services manager at Crestwood and Davis elementary schools.

Tuesday is the first day of school.

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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