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Assessing the Academy

Dr. Maria Montessori was the first female to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School in 1896. However, Montessori wasn’t content with a life of science and became interested in education, establishing a childcare center in a poor neighborhood of Rome in 1907, focusing on special-needs children. Her methods of teaching, which were designed to optimize the intellectual and social development of children, caught the attention of educational theorists and spread to the United States where, in 1960, the American Montessori Society was established.

Seven years later, the Northern Kentucky Montessori Center opened in Crescent, Kentucky, a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. Operated as a one-room schoolhouse in the founder’s home, the center offered preschool and kin­­dergarten for children ages 3 to 6 years old. In 2003, however, there was a change in leadership and the center moved to a new location outside of the residential neighborhood: a strip mall in an industrial part of town.

The center started out small, occupying only one unit in the strip mall with two exterior doors. The front door of the building was left open at all times and staffed by someone at a registration desk while the back door remained locked from the exterior. The center also had Bates Security, a company from Lexington, Kentucky, install a small security monitoring system and a motion detector within the facility as added precautions.

This system worked fine, but in 2009 enrollment began to grow and the center decided to expand into a second classroom in the neighboring unit of the strip mall. Then, in 2012, the center grew again by adding two additional classrooms. It now occupied four units within the seven-unit mall, changed its name to the Northern Kentucky Montessori Academy, and began offering classes through sixth grade. “In less than 10 years, we doubled our size two times,” says academy Associate Director Lisa Deiso. “We went from 2,500 square feet to 5,000 square feet, to 10,000 square feet, and with that came population growth as well.”

This growth took the original entrances and exits at the academy from two to nine, and made the administration think about the possible security implications. “We also began to see a change in the community around us,” Dieso says. “We began to see more pedestrian traffic as well as vehicle traffic.” Along with the changes to the surrounding area, internally the academy had changed as well, expanding to a staff of 19 for 96 students.

With the increase in students, parents began to raise security concerns about who had access to the academy on a daily basis—especially as news of school shootings and other acts of violence at schools were reported nationwide. “It became a frequent conversation amongst our parent community” about what the academy could do to improve its security, Dieso explains.
With these concerns in mind, the academy decided it was time to implement a better access control system. However, as an educational facility, the academy wanted a system that it could use to keep the doors to the building locked, but that would be easy to use for faculty and staff. This was a priority as staff members are “coming and going quite a bit, taking groups of children to the playground, coming and going for lunch and breaks, and things of that nature,” Dieso says.

Additionally, the academy needed a system that would allow easy access through the doors during certain times of the day, such as in the mornings before classes began and at the end of the day when parents would arrive to pick up their children.
For help with the process, the academy again turned to Bates Security. The integrator recommended a variety of options to choose from. One of those included using a keypad and code entry access control system—a common solution for smaller childcare facilities.

However, the academy opted not to pursue that route. “We felt we were too large for that, plus a lot of our families have caregivers and grandparents that are supporting them as well, and we just weren’t comfortable taking that step and giving everyone the access code,” Dieso says.

Instead, the academy decided to go with a keyless entry system from Honeywell, a NetAXS managed NX4L1 system. The system is part of the NetAXS-4 series and is a Web-based solution that can be managed remotely. It was installed during the summers of 2012 and 2013.

The system is set up with readers at all nine exterior doors, and every employee is given a key card. Employees use the card to enter the building, allowing the doors to remain locked from the outside during the day. Every card is connected to a monitoring system, allowing the academy to track when cards are used. NetAXS also allows administrators to pull reports of card activity.

“Every card has an identification number on it so we know which identification number goes with which employee,” Dieso says. “If for some reason something were to happen after-hours or on a weekend, we could also go into the system and see who accessed the building at what time and connect it, based on the card number and the employee it’s connected to.”

The exterior doors to the building re-­ main locked throughout the day; however, there are panic bars on the interior that allow the doors to be opened at any time in case of an emergency. Furthermore, the academy also worked with the local emergency departments to ensure that they could access the building if there’s an incident. “We have a box on the outside of the building that has an extra keycard in it that all of the local emergency departments have a code to get into and then have a key to get into the building,” Dieso explains.

Since the installation, feedback has been extremely positive despite some adjustments from the staff. “It was a little tricky at first for our staff only because they had to have their key cards on all times because they were used to doors being open,” she says. “That was a change for a lot of people, but it was an easy change. I believe everybody liked having that added feeling of security, which is important.”