The topic of school safety was the center of discussion at the monthly Greenwich PTA Council meeting on Friday morning. The school district has been working closely with First Selectman Peter Tesei and the Greenwich Police Department “in identifying a number of strategies to enhance the safety and security of our public schools.”
Joining Tesei was Schools Superintendent William McKersie and Police Chief James Heavey, who addressed more than 50 people in attendance—including PTA leaders from across the district, five Board of Education members (Chairman Leslie Moriarty, Vice Chairman Barbara O’Neill, Secretary Adriana Ospina, Nancy Kail and Jennifer Dayton); and Managing Director of Operations Ben Branyan, Director of School Safety Services Tom Bobkowski and Communications Director Kim Eves.
Tesei started the discussion saying that safety is “a top priority” further expanding that “I have a child in the school and I think about it every day when drop-off occurs.” Tesei added, “There is exposure” but that is the reason why “best practices need to be put into place.” He called the security “sound” and added, “I would feel sound dropping my daughter off.”
Tesei reminded the parents that when there were attempts to adopt safe school zones from registered sex offenders, that there was an “outright rejection” by the RTM. Referring to a post-Sandy Hook era, he stated “we are at a whole other level beyond that.” And that’s where the parents come in, said Tesei. “We all have to be ambassadors for the protocol when it is adopted.”
“This is about our treasure…”
McKersie said, and to that end, he advised the parents to take Tesei's remarks “to heart.”
The recommendations, which have been developed through an internal safety audit, also were supported by input from “parents, teachers, principals, and administrators.” McKersie said the plan was reviewed with building principals as they are “on the frontline to make this work.”
The Board of Education will first review it at its Thursday, Feb. 7 work session with a public comment session at the Feb. 21 business meeting. McKersie did tell the parents that “some aspects of the plan cannot be shared.” What McKersie did reveal about the plan is “what we are recommending are best practices and realistic, but not best practices gone too far.”
Four Legs of a Stool
Branyan explained that in developing the recommendations, “four core areas” have been identified:
- Facility Enhancements
- Human Resources
- Procedures and Practices
The aspects of facility enhancements that need to be addressed include standardizing main entrances, adoption of a universal key system, security cameras, card readers, window shades, panic buttons and a floor mapping system, which Branyan said will be installed during the February break at Greenwich High School and the middle schools.
The plan seeks to maximize the two pieces of the “Human Resources” aspect which are already in place which includes the Student Resource Officer (SRO) at GHS and the existing community policing system. There is consideration being given to a second SRO at GHS. McKersie called Officer Carlos Franco’s presence at GHS “a stroke of brilliance,” saying that Franco is “so dedicated to the welfare of the children in building.”
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“All Ears Open. All Eyes Open.”
While the district is going to implement standard procedures by “bands” (all elementary schools, all middle schools and then GHS), Branyan revealed that the more challenging portion is “trying to shore up the volunteer piece.”
Changes in procedures for access to schools also will change beyond the signing in and out. Visitors will need to “leave some type of state identification in exchange for numbered building passes.” Lockdowns, fire drills and training will also increase in frequency.
In fact, there was a lock down drill at GHS on Friday morning. GHS parent Julie Faryniarz said she was at the school when the lockdown drill was announced. She asked if there was something that could be developed that was more realistic. Heavey said “it becomes a process with best practices coming out” with the drills developing with e-blasts distributed in the future communicating that lock downs are underway.
“They got an A on the paper before they even got the assignment…”
stated Heavey of the recommendations and referred the group to the Connecticut Police Chiefs testimony to the School Safety Subcommittee of the Sandy Hook Advisory Panel given on Jan. 25 (see attached) as a comparison. “If you take what the BOE is recommending, it is better,” said Heavey.
Heavey spoke about “community policing” and the necessity to “work together as a community to make it better.” Of all the schools, GHS presents a “different level of openness” and for Heavey, the police should be where the people are, reminding the group that some 3,000 individuals are in that building every school day.
In response to one parent’s inquiry of response time to a 911 call, Heavey said that the department averages 2 minutes and 33 seconds, and many times responses are faster. Heavey assured parents that police have a visible presence around schools during the “vulnerable periods” of arrival and departure.
"This isn’t a project. It is a way of life going forward..."
said Branyan, who added that the careful consideration is being given to the “speed of implementation” of the plan and that once approved by the board, an interim appropriation will be requested. Calling the development of the recommendations “sausage making,” he also said that at the same time efforts have been made to “gear up” the RFPs. “We have quotes and we want to implement as soon as we get the dollars
One parent, Marty Dayton, said that she felt it was an emotional reaction to be throwing money at the situation, weighing in that she would rather have the bathrooms at North Mianus renovated. In response, McKersie said he understood her concerns, but said Greenwich was being modest in its response. He said that on Thursday night, Newtown approved armed guards at every school and that in Ohio, school districts are arming janitors with guns. As far as the financial response, McKersie once again assured everyone that the interim appropriation would be completely separate from the capital and operating budget requests.
Listen to the Police and Parentlink
Donna Curtis, PTA Council Secretary, suggested that the district start to utilize a “twitter feed,” which McKersie thought was a good suggestion adding “in emergencies, we should use multiple forms of communication.” For those who are missing the daily Sandy calls from Police Capt. Mark Kordick, there is good news Heavey said. “We are getting a 311 system,” which can be utilized by the Board of Education. If you miss one of the updates, you will be able to call into the system and replay the message.
Leslie Alfano asked the panel, “what should parents do?” She said, “parents tend to panic and immediately want their children with them.” Heavey replied that standing fast and waiting for good communication would be helpful citing that it would not “impede our ability to do our job.”
Tom Bobkowski echoed the same sentiments, “do not respond to school. Responding to the school hinders the operation.” Parents should listen to parentlink (the district’s communication tool via phone and email) and to the police.
“Importance of everyone paying attention”
Regarding the physical facilities efforts are being made to “harden the exterior of our schools” and “dramatically slow them down” if there is infiltration, stated McKersie who echoed Tesei’s advice on participating in the defense.
Board Chairman Moriarty asked for feedback from the group or any concerned stakeholder. “We want to hear your views.”