For several months, public and private schools across southwest Wisconsin have been upgrading security features and training staff using funds from a new state grant program.

Administrators say although the need for the improvements is unfortunate, they are much welcomed.

“We want people to feel welcome coming into the building, but also it is our responsibility to take care of the students and staff here and provide a safe environment and we feel the safe school grant allowed us to do those things,” said Aaron Olson, superintendent of Cuba City School District.

Wisconsin lawmakers allocated $100 million for school safety grants following a deadly school shooting in February 2018 in Parkland, Fla. Public, private, charter and tribal schools were eligible to apply for funds for school security upgrades and staff training.

The program is administered by the Office of School Safety within the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

Cuba City School District used the $94,815 it received to upgrade its security camera system, install shatter-resistant film on select windows and install an emergency notification system. In the coming weeks, it will upgrade access controls in some doorways.

In Hazel Green, the Southwestern Wisconsin School District received two grants totaling $70,584.

Mary Jo Birkett, the district’s middle and high school secretary, works inside the front office with a front-row view of foot traffic as people enter and exit the building throughout the school day.

Next to her desk is a button that activates the school’s new WAVE Plus Critical Incident Notification System, which automatically notifies law enforcement, district officials and building occupants of an emergency.

“Before we had that system, you would basically get on the intercom or there would be a bell system that I would just press (repeatedly),” she said. “I’m a little safer now, too.”

The buttons also are located in teachers’ classrooms and offices.

Additional funds allowed the district to install new door locks, shatter-resistant film and a new public address system inside the high and middle schools.

School Superintendent John Costello said the grants expedited the district’s ability to make the upgrades, which otherwise would have come from its maintenance budget.

“It’s sad that we have to worry about the dangers, instead of just focusing on educating our kids, but that’s the society we live in nowadays,” he said.

Districts that received funding through the second round of grants are required to have a portion of teachers and counselors participate in adolescent mental health training by August 2020. Districts also must establish teams to assess violence-related threats and intervene with at-risk youth.

Were it not for the state funding, small parochial institutions such as St. Mary School in Bloomington — with just 29 students — would not have been unable to finance extensive safety upgrades.

St. Mary received two grants, totaling $20,535, which covered the costs of installing new windows and exterior doors and shatter-resistant film. The school also upgraded its entryway and security cameras.

“We always had a safety plan, but it made us take a good hard look at what we were doing,” said Principal Julie Zenz. “It prompted us to improve things all the way around.”