Anyone who has ever played “dodge the vehicle” trying to cross 14th Street to reach Abilene High School before or after school knows it’s a dangerous place.
“The intersection at 14th and Cedar gives us all a little bit of a pause,” said Superintendent Greg Brown during Monday night’s school board meeting.
School district staff recently met with Interim Abilene City Manager Jane Foltz and Public Works Director Lon Schrader and school district Maintenance Supervisor Dave Canfield to discuss the 14th street corridor.
Working to make the area safer, city personnel repainted the crosswalk, Abilene Police Department officers are stepping up patrols and a portable stop sign — similar to those recently placed on Third Street in downtown Abilene — has been placed in the intersection.
“Its purpose is to remind people that when somebody is in the crosswalk, you’re supposed to stop. It’s a state law,” Brown said. “We’re going to roll that portable sign out in the middle of the crosswalk and just leave it there during the school day and see what we can do to make things better.”
Board Member Jennifer Waite asked why that area around AHS and Abilene Middle School has never been a designated school zone.
“That did come up as part of the conversation,” Brown said, commenting there’s a formula engineers use to determine whether an area meets required criteria.
Board Member Gregg Noel noted that Rural Center and Blue Ridge elementaries, both located out in the county, are in school zones.
“You go to Blue Ridge, out in the middle of nowhere, and they have the flashing school zones and there might only be two or three cars,” Noel said. “Here, the traffic is tremendous.”
Board President Kyle Becker said he worries about motorists not seeing pedestrians, particularly during certain times of the year when the sun blinds drivers heading east past Abilene Middle School to the high school.
Waite said she witnessed that situation occur last year.
“That car didn’t even stop,” she said.
“And if one stops in the center lane, I’ve seen cars go around it on the outside lanes and that’s scary, too,” Becker said.
Brown said the city is looking at conducting a traffic study for the area.
Board Member Mark Wilson said there have been “traffic studies as long as I’ve been on the board” and plans have been made to improve the safety in the area; however, nothing has ever come to fruition.
“I know it’s always been a budget issue,” Wilson said, adding that possibly the board could commit some funds to help make it a reality “if that’s what it takes to get it done.”
Brown said he believes the city may be ready to make a move.
With the road improvement work that’s currently being done at 14th and Buckeye, Brown said the city appears to be committed to improving the area.
District Tech Supervisor Mike Liby introduced members of his Network Operations Team (NOC), comprised of students who help out with tech situations, computer training and other issues.
NOC students often work “behind the scenes,” Liby said. For instance, they were really involved with enrollment, sometimes helping parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and others who have questions. Sometimes they even create email accounts for family members.
“These guys are super at coming in and taking care of that with a smile. If it’s a technology question, they are on the front line,” Liby said.
Brown said he was really impressed with the students during enrollment.
Besides the students, staff members Mary Zey at the Abilene Middle School media center and Kim Townsend at the AHS media center also are involved with NOC.
Liby said students have been helping him with technology issues for the past 10 to 15 years and Noel asked what has changed over that time period.
“Probably the fact that over the years, things have become more complicated, but easier,” Liby said. “You can do more, but you’ve got to know all the tricks and tips.”
Board members asked if any of the students plan to do some type of tech job as a career. None of those present said they did, but Liby noted one of his former students makes a six-figure salary doing the same type of work Liby does.
Assistant Superintendent Chris Cooper asked what the number one fix is for staff. Liby replied it was turning on and off the computer.
“Restarts are popular with us and a lot of time we deal with printing issues,” Liby said. “We get a lot of those.”
Monitoring social media
Wilson asked if anyone monitors social media posts. He knows some companies watch social media in order to “get ahead” of things if something negative is posted.
Liby said no one is “assigned” to watch it and responses are more reactive than proactive.
AHS Principal Ben Smith said that students usually are the biggest source for letting staff know when something adverse has been posted.
“That’s where the P3 Campus app has come in, especially if there’s been comments about self-harm,” Smith said. “Those have come through pretty quickly when kids discover that.”
The app allows students to anonymously report concerns that make them feel unsafe.
In those cases, students receive some type of help or law enforcement is called, Smith said.
“So it is reactive, but it’s usually the students who are the first line of defense on it,” Smith explained. “If something makes them uncomfortable or is not right, they’ll make a report.”
Contact Kathy Hageman at firstname.lastname@example.org.