MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) – Madison City Schools (MCS) students are returning to the classroom for the first day of school, and with this new school year will come some changes for the district.

Superintendent Ed Nichols says safety is a top priority. MCS received a $400,000 grant the district is using to implement safety measures like additional cameras, SROs, and a crisis alert system. The new system will be up and running in the next few weeks and will allow teachers to signal a medical emergency or the need for a school lockdown.

Nichols told News 19 that in addition to the SROs stationed at every middle and high school in the district, additionally, safety personnel will be present at schools this year.

“We’ve hired external safety folks to come in, contractually, and be an extra set of eyes and presence,” Nichols said. “They’re unarmed, unlike SROs, but they’ll work in coordination with our SROs and our principals to have another person there checking doors, helping in the office for entrance.”

Faculty and staff will also undergo safety training throughout the year.

Nichols said he and the district have taken steps to anticipate the role artificial intelligence will play in the classroom.

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“This AI integration is not going away, and we need to be on the front end of helping our students understand how to use it and when to use it,” Nichols said. “It will not replace work they have to do, but it could be another tool to use in that way. I think our first step was doing a policy then working with the teachers.”

The district has also worked to expand STEM and fine arts education this year so students will have more access to those programs.

“We have new STEM teachers for every elementary school,” Nichols said. “We have fine arts, so we don’t have to rotate each semester.”

Some students will be attending a brand new school this semester. MCS cut the ribbon on Journey Middle School on Monday, and hundreds of students are enrolled to attend this year. The superintendent said the school is a $52 million investment for the district and boasts a 170,000-square-foot facility.

Journey Middle is the third middle school in the district. Both Liberty and Discovery Middle are sitting at 99% capacity. The new facility will take some of the burden off of those schools and allow for updates to be made to those buildings.

Superintendent Nichols said many new students have joined the district in recent years.

“In the history of our school district and this is our 25th year, we’re always growing,” Nichols said. “We’re anticipating new students and how that will impact class rosters. It’s always a last-minute movement because we have several hundred people who enroll in the last week or two of school.”

The opening of Journey Middle School was originally scheduled for the Fall of 2022, but the project experienced several delays, including supply chain and labor issues relating to COVID-19.