STANSBURY PARK — Gov. Gary Herbert watched a demonstration of the Won-Doors at Rose Springs Elementary School in Stansbury Park on Wednesday, a system that can wall off areas of a school at the push of a button.
Won-Door Corp., a Utah company that manufactures horizontal sliding fire doors, donated the system to the school. Other private partners donated their services for the installation of the doors.
The newly renovated school, which serves about 430 students, has some of the latest safety features statewide, including a video doorbell that requires visitors to present ID to gain entry and a network of surveillance cameras.
The governor also met with Tooele County School District counselors to discuss equally important aspects of school climate, creating an environment where students' emotional needs are tended to and they feel safe to learn, he said.
"The next area this administration is going to emphasize is more counselors," Herbert said.
Maresa Manzione, president of the Tooele County Board of Education, said increasing the number of school counselors is important. The school district received a $250,000 matching grant from the state to help increase the number of elementary school counselors. There is one counselor for every two elementary schools in the school district.
HB264, sponsored by Rep Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, authorized the Utah State Board of Education to award matching grants to school districts and charter schools to increase numbers of counselors in elementary schools.
Manzione said it has been challenging to find enough school counselors to hire and keep their caseloads manageable.
"We have to be mindful and watchful of this salary situation," she said.
School counselors told Herbert that some students they work with lack food, clothing and in some cases, housing.
The school district's homeless liaison connects families to many services they need, also accompanying counselors on home visits.
Sometimes, parents reach out to school counselors for help. One woman described how a mom recovering from drug addiction told a school counselor she and her child were living in a trailer parked in a driveway that had no water or electricity.
"My point is, she knew she could come to school and tell her story," a school counselor told the governor.
The district uses a social-emotional learning curriculum in its schools to support students and enhance school climate.
Use of the Second Step program has resulted in fewer students referred to school administrators for behavioral issues. The district received a federal grant to implement the program, although this is the final year of the grant.
Even as the curriculum was being implemented, the school district experienced a series of student suicides and one death.
After five years of using Second Step strategies, the 2017 Student Health and Risk Prevention Survey showed decreases in suicide and depression indicators; a decrease in marijuana, alcohol and cigarette use; and reduced gang involvement and school bullying.
The curriculum was developed by the nonprofit Committee for Children. The organization's programs reach more than 14 million children in more than 70 countries, according to its website.
Earlier in the day, Herbert ate lunch with students, working his way around the room to greet them with high-fives and words of encouragement for a successful school year.
Rachel MacPherson, a sixth-grader, said she was "excited" to meet Herbert.
"I get to rub it in my siblings' faces," she said.
Another sixth-grader, Kaimen Wendt, said his parents got to meet the president so he was grateful for a chance to meet Utah's governor.
"Usually, I haven't been to too many places where someone big is coming," Kaimen said.
Both students said they feel safe at school.
"There's many things at school that keep me safe. There's tons of adults to make sure that you're safe. Now there's tons of drills that keep you safe," Kaimen said.
The new security doors will take some getting used to, Rachel said.
"I'm kind of excited for the doors and also kind of scared. What if the doors shut on you or on your ankle or something?" she said.
Superintendent Scott Rogers said he anticipates that the fire doors closest to the school entry will be activated more frequently than others because there are times that the staff and students need to shelter in place, usually because of some type of police activity in the area.
After a lunch of chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy — a school lunch classic — Herbert examined the school's safety features, in particular the Won-Door system.
Improving the safety of Utah schools will be achieved "step by step," the governor said.
"This is going to be an evolution. This is not the only option, it is an option. It obviously looks like a good option," Herbert said of the Won-Door system.
"This is a good step in the right direction. I'm impressed with what I see."
Rogers said schools need physical safety features and drills but they also need caring and compassionate adults who reassure students.
"What I've learned is, you need a balanced approach. You really can't address safety issues unless you really address student life issues and social-emotional learning," he said.