Retiring school safety director says perception of security is important, too
by Brian Anderson
Dec 24, 2013 | 2736 views |  0 comments | 46 46 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Calhoun County Schools' director of safety and security, Mike Fincher, at his desk. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
Calhoun County Schools' director of safety and security, Mike Fincher, at his desk. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
When Mike Fincher started working for Calhoun County Schools in 1996, there weren’t many people in the country with his job title.

So the newly appointed director of safety and security ended up going to Toronto for his first professional conference.

“This was long before Columbine,” Fincher said, referring to the 1999 school shooting in Colorado. “I just thank Calhoun County Schools for having the foresight to recognize this need for safety.”

Fincher, who is set to retire from Calhoun County Schools at the end of the current school year, practically created his job description. After retiring from the Anniston Police Department as a captain, Fincher said he visited the school superintendent’s office and asked if the school system was interested in hiring a full-time safety director. A few months later, he had the job.

“Mike has been the most valuable asset to me in my three years as superintendent,” said current county schools chief Joe Dyar. “Whenever an obstacle or challenge occurred involving safety in our schools, Mike was level-headed and did what he needed to do to be a leader.”

During his 17 years with the school system, technology, including cameras and communication devices, advanced rapidly, in part as a reaction to school shootings around the country. Fincher said while his job required him to keep up with the best methods of keeping students safe, it was often just the perception of safety which made students, faculty and parents more comfortable. He said that early in his tenure, he heard rumors about a possible safety concern at one of the county schools. Knowing the rumors were just that — rumors — he said he didn’t take any action.

“The next day, 30 percent of the students didn’t show up to school,” Fincher said. “That’s when I realized it’s not just about the reality of safety, it’s about the perception. You need to let people know when something isn’t true.”

Fincher said when it comes to moments he looks back on proudly, they’re few and far between. Ultimately, he said, doing his job well meant safety wasn’t a concern for most around him.

“As far as I know I’ve never been recognized by the board,” he said. “And that’s fine. I don’t want to be.”

He hopes his retirement will be just as low-key.

“I might just play golf; I really don’t know,” Fincher said. “I’m just ready to do something else.”

While Fincher had to learn quickly on his new job, his replacement, Randy Reaves, will have an easier time adjusting to the new position. Reaves, a former probation officer at the Calhoun County Courthouse, was hired by the county school system in October to work alongside Fincher during his last six months in office.

“I told them that whoever they hire, we need to work together,” Fincher said. “Every situation is different, but you can’t know what to do without experience.”

Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.
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