June 11, 2018

Creating Safer Schools Regardless of Unique Challenges

By Ally Jones

Based on the article by Kevin Vargyas, “Designed for a Different World: Connecting a Century-Old Building to the Future of School Safety.” Read the full article on Upshot.

Old Building – New World

Keeping students safe in a 21st century world within century-old building is a unique challenge, and it is one that Kevin Vargyas, Associate Principal, faces at Cuyahoga Falls High School. Kevin states, “Our school is 97 years old. It was designed to bring people in, not keep them out. There are over 100 doors to our building. We have tons of cameras, but we can’t have a metal detector or security guard at every door. So, it’s a major challenge to take a building that was designed for a different world and essentially put a bubble around it, without physically changing anything.”

Ensuring that students are kept safe in these conditions is a challenge; however, by valuing the ability to have uncomfortable conversations that initiate change, Kevin Vargyas has been able to find ways to “build a protective bubble” over his school.

A Safety Paradigm Shift

When a false fire alarm during a class exchange led to a chaotic situation where teachers were unsure of which students they were responsible for and the staff was communicating with only four radios, Kevin knew it was time to implement a solution that would allow them to prevent another chaotic situation from taking place.

The implementation of NaviGate Prepared within Cuyahoga Falls City Schools improved the way his staff was able to handle emergency situations. Kevin notes, “We showed our staff how simple it is to account for each student during an event using the Respond app. If a student has been accounted for, their icon turns green. If they’re missing, it turns red. It’s common for us to have more than 1,800 people in the building, and now our technology can finally accommodate such large numbers. The text message thread allows the 100 or more staff to communicate in real time—a major difference compared to four staff members with radios. We more than raised the bar—this was our new normal. It was a complete safety paradigm shift.”

Communication with All

The process of creating a new system for safety procedures was made successful through open communication with students about new systems and new expectations. Kevin states, “The student body is the river. When you want something to happen, you have to get the river behind it. Once you get the river on board, you can’t stop it. And, over time, we got them on board. We got parents and teachers onboard as well and now, our momentum is unstoppable.”

How does your district respond to unique school safety challenges?

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Alexander Garey

We have a similar situation with our high school in terms of being built to let people in. In addition to using Navigate we are actually adding dinner extra physical partitions for safety.

Communication is key. Stepping back and looking at the bigger picture of unique situations allows us to fine tune and utilise systems more effectively. Its easy to take every day routines for granted until its too late. Staying fluid in using regular drills to catch unique situations may seem more work at the time bit saves time and lives in the future.

Jason Greathouse

We plan to implement the Respond App this upcoming year. Really looking forward to our building utilizing this valuable tool!!

Chad Leggett

Most of the buildings in our distict have the same issue. Some have too many doors (to help with fire drills), while others have the office too far away from the front doors. All of these issues come with hiccups and headaches.

Eric Hall

Monitoring campus accessibility is challenging and Navigate helps in this area

We have the same challenge with old buildings in our district. The entrances are placed where it’s difficult to safely allow entrance to visitors, etc. Having Navigate Prepared is just one of the many changes we’ve adapted to keep our students and staff safe.

Charlie H.

New building, old building it the priority of a safe school and the attitudes of all the people inside, students, teachers, cooks, administrators, that will be the deciding factor

It helps to read stories like this to know “we aren’t alone!”

Brian Frazier

Teacher involvement is key to the success of Navigate on a campus. Once the teachers see how simple it is to account for kids, they buy into the Navigate App. Communication with staff, teachers, SRO’s helps each accomplish the collective goal of student safety.

Chris Hernandez

Being new users of the Navigate Prepared system, it helps to know that there are others who are still working on improving security systems and being able to ask questions of others to make our schools even safer each day.

Cheryl Bailey

I’m looking forward to using the Respond system. I feel like the staff is very uneasy in today’s world. This will hopefully help teachers and other staff feel more at ease knowing someone in the building has their students and they are accounted for. Not only that, but this will enforce the idea that we are ALL responsible for ALL students in the building – whether they are “yours” or not.

Older buildings present a myriad of challenges, when it comes to safety and security. While the majority of the comments have tended to be about school access and the number of entrance doors, there are additional issues that older school plants present. Many older schools (50+), were built on major community thoroughfares, during a time when students traveled to and from school, either on a bus, walking, or riding bicycles. While many students continue to ride a bus, a large portion of students, especially in lower and middle grades, are dropped off and picked up via privately owned vehicles (POV).… Read more »

James K. Drew, AIA

We have seen the value of the chat function being utilized by districts during both fire drills and actual fire alarms. Teachers a reticent on leaving their classroom based upon fears from incidents. We have seen them use the chat function upon the activation of a building alarm. Administrative persons and.or even teachers can effectively communicate the nature of the alarm as it occurs. This takes the fear out of a drill and takes the apprehension out of an actual fire. A simple text that says “actual fire in “X Room” please evacuation accordingly” makes a huge difference.

We utilize the “flip charts” within the Navigate Prepared App. When these are customized to our school, teachers are able to see what to do/where to go given our unique challenges.

We’ve been fortunate to have been given some grant money to update several of our facilities. We also use Navigate Prepared – which II think is wonderful!! Such an easy way to account for the kids and staff members! The only “problem” we’ve had is that certain teachers/other staff didn’t want to upload the app on their personal phones, despite the fact that it’s free and they get free wifi here?? Did you have any problems with that Kevin?

Melissa M.

It is critical to have both (1) a unifying concept/plan for school safety across a district, and (2) the flexibility to address the needs of each building/facility separately. Each building and community present their own unique challenges and solutions, and addressing those individually is key to addressing it district-wide.


We recently upgraded our front entrance to create a safer environment.

Julie Hermes

We have utilized the ALICE training to be better prepared.

Jennifer Eley

Our district and board are extremely cognizant of safety. We recently added a secure front entrance to our building due to safety concerns the old entrance posed.


We just redid the entire entrance to the building to make it safer! Looking forward to
Issuing navigate

Communication is very important

I am new to the navigate system and I appeciate what it accomplishes