MCKEES ROCKS, Pa. (KDKA) — There'll be a new school security plan in place when classes resume in one local school district later this month.
That plan involves nearly a dozen armed security guards on patrol.
Inside the halls of Sto-Rox Jr./Sr. High School, Lauren Ferragonio feels needed by the students.
"The best part of every day, waking up and going to work and seeing them," the security guard with Signal Security said. "And they have a great sense of humor and seeing how I can fit into their everyday life and help in whatever role that is for that day."
She is one of eight armed security officers with Signal Security, a franchised private firm that has expanded into Pittsburgh. Sto-Rox is the first district to hire the company on a $396,000 one-year contract.
"They're coming in, they're training, they're hitting the ground running," school board president Cameron Culliver said.
Culliver said he gets phone calls from parents worried about the number of fights, guns and shootings within the district. The area saw 21 homicides between 2020-2022, according to Allegheny County record keeping.
Culliver said the district toyed with the idea of forming its own police force but decided against it.
"Their personnel, their leadership, they're trained," Culliver said. "They have things already in place. Why reinvent the wheel?"
Sto-Rox dissolved its relationship with another security company before hiring Signal. The company retained some of the experienced guards, including Ferragonio.
"You got to provide a blanket of security no matter what and make sure people feel safe," Culliver said. "If I feel safe in the building, I don't have to worry about what's going on in the outside right now."
In a world of frequent school shootings and a rise in community violence, Signal trains all officers in active shooter, fire prevention and de-escalation tactics. Security personnel will do bag checks, manage metal detectors, watch entry and exit points, and supervise sporting events.
"Sto-Rox is our first school in Pittsburgh," said Ben Hartman, a coordinator at Signal Security. "In Pa., we have around six schools, and across the country we have over 20."
Hartman said Signal is seeing a shift away from the designated school resource officer in favor of a team of trained guards.
"Our uniforms don't look like police officers," he said. "We like to be somebody they can approach in the hallway if they have an issue. You don't want to be scared when you see our officers. You want to be able to come up with them as a mentor with any problems you have."
In this first contract year, it is offering a $500 scholarship to one student.
"Whether it be criminal justice degree, police or military, whether it be buying a suit to go the academy, some boots, or to pay for part of the semester," Hartman said.
The principals and guards will work together to pick which student will see the most impact from that scholarship money.
Signal said it's getting requests from other districts in the area and it's giving out proposals.
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