Jacksonville schools invest in cutting-edge notification system

A state-of-the-art emergency notification system should be installed in all Jacksonville School District 117 buildings by the end of the fall semester.

The school board voted unanimously Wednesday to buy the technology from Centegix Video. Noel Beard, school board president, said he believes it is the first system of its kind in a central Illinois school.

“Anything we can do to protect staff and students is worth it,” Beard said. “This is just one more thing we can do to make our schools safer.”

The district agreed to a five-year contract with Atlanta-based Centegix and will pay $155,000 out of its general fund during the first year of the contract, according to Superintendent Steve Ptacek. It will pay Centegix $88,000 each of the next four years.

The system is simple to operate, Ptacek said. Teachers and other staff members will be given a card similar to their identification card that will fit into a carrying case.

If the button on the card is pressed three times, it will send an alert to let the administrators, the school nurse and the school resource officer know it is a localized situation such as an illness or a fight, Ptacek said. The building map will be displayed on office computers and phone apps given to main responders. A dot will show the location of the alarm. Police will be notified only if a staff member keeps pressing the button on their card.

“If there is a major threat, staff can continue to hit it until they hit it eight times and the system launches,” Ptacek said. “It will trigger a schoolwide alert that will set off strobe lights that are a visual alert to students that the school is on lockdown. In addition to alerting the school’s staff, district officials and the 911 center will be notified.”

Jacksonville Police Chief Adam Mefford is already a fan of the new system.

“Rarely do you find something you like 100%, but this checks all the boxes. I am 100% behind this,” Mefford said. “It’s a good thing for our community and school district to be a leader. I hope other schools take the same lead. It may not be right for every district, but this increases safety at the schools.”

Ptacek said the district is working with the Jacksonville police so officers on duty will have the app on their phones and know where to respond.

The notification cards can only be activated when in range of a Bluetooth hub at each school, according to the Centegix website. Staff cannot accidentally activate a police response when they are way from school.

Ptacek said Centegix will provide training to the staff.

“There is a need to emphasize when to use it and when not to use it. It’s not going to replace the call to the office for a principal,” Ptacek said. “If someone is seriously injured, we could use the wider alert so 911 would be notified.”

Mefford likes the system because it puts the ability to report in the hands of the staff. Other systems use buttons that are fixed on a classroom wall or are cellphone activated.

“I like that it is mobile and can be carried. They don’t have to run to a room or keep track of their phone,” Mefford said. “I like it because it alerts all the major players along with law enforcement. It enables everyone to act in unison and will cut our response time by notifying officers exactly where the alert was activated.”

Beard said the administration had looked at several systems and felt this was the one that best served Jacksonville.

“We have seen other systems at school board conferences, but they were hard-wired,” Beard said. “Superintendent Ptacek, the building administrator and assistant superintendent Matt Moore looked at several others before deciding on this system. I think it is a great step to secure our campuses and keep our staff and students safe.”

Mefford said the department’s relationship with the district has evolved as they’ve worked to make schools safer and ensure doors remain locked.

“With school shootings, it’s time to put financial issues aside and concentrate on the safety of staff and students,” Mefford said. “I’m glad we are putting our systems into action instead of talking about it until the point it’s too late. We need to protect our children and this system is a good step forward.”

Ptacek said the district did much of its research online about the system, including on a principal’s page on Facebook.

“We saw numerous comments from principals raving about the system,” Ptacek said, noting that 80% of the schools in Georgia and 20% of the schools in Florida use the Centegix system.

Mefford said he was in several meetings with Ptacek during the early stages of finding a system that fit the district’s needs and was able to convey his concerns.

“We both agreed the Centegix system would meet the needs of the school and local law enforcement,” Mefford said.

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