District enhances school security and safety plan

By LINDSAY CAREY
STAFF WRITER

Joseph A. DePaolo Middle School Principal Frank Pepe presented an outline of the district’s updated school security and safety plan.

“It’s something that will come before the board each year, and it’s because of a public act that really evolved based on tragedies around the country and then very close to home in Newtown,” said Pepe. “Based on what happened in Newtown it was very clear that the State of Connecticut really needed to have a common language and a common template for emergency response.”

According to Pepe, a district committee led by Superintendent Tim Connellan met to create an appropriate plan for school security and safety.

The committee included building administrators Interim Principal of Southington High School Brian Straineri and Principal of Thalberg Elementary School Megan Bennett, Adminstrative Intern Deb Moreau, Director of Operations Pete Romano, and Administrative Secretary to the Assistant Superintendent Michele Passamano participated as an ex-officio member.

Pepe described the process the district committee took in creating this plan, using the state template, and how school based teams went about communicating the plan to students and faculty.

The DePaolo Middle School principal said that the committee started by pulling apart the state template, which provided an overview of what the plan should include as well as the common language to be used in the documents.

“It became very clear that there was going to be a competition for resources once we explained to the administrative staff what needed to happen in each building,” said Pepe to the Board of Education.

Pepe said that they received input for the individual school plans from the Town Manager, Town Attorney, the Police Department, the Fire Department, and the Plainville-Southington regional health district by looking at the natural and human-made hazards in or around the schools.

“It’s not about the worst-case scenario,” said Pepe. “It could also be about if someone fell in a building and got hurt and you needed to clear out a hallway, or it could be a tornado warning.”

Safety audits were completed for the high school, middle schools and by each of the elementary schools.

On Nov. 5, there was a full administrative staff meeting held at the central office to present the school security and safety plan to building administrators and formed school based teams to personalize the plan for the school.

After all of the plans were completed, there was a singing of the plan held on Feb.25, 2015. Board of Education Chairman Brian Goralski, Fire Chief Harold Clark, Police Chief Jack Daly, Fire Marshal Russ Wisner, Town Attorney Mark Sciota, Health Department Director Shane Lockwood, and Superintendent Connellan gathered in the Municipal Center to sign each school’s safety plan.

Following the signing, officials began to roll out the plan throughout the district. On March 10, Pepe said all building administrators held a district-wide staff meeting about the plan and decided on how to introduced the new language and procedures to students at each school

“The new language for the kids is really the most critical information that we have,” said Pepe. “One of the major lessons that was learned in the Newtown tragedy was about first responders converging on a sight and not speaking the same language.”

Pepe said that the language in this plan reflects the language of first responders.

Pepe shared copies of the news charts posted in every space throughout the district for a staff member or a student to access should they need to secure themselves.

He also shared that the rollout to students was handled in an age-appropriate manner.

“One of the beauties of the middle school child is that they’re absolutely old enough to take in the information and to understand when something is very serious, and they soak it up,” said Pepe of how the rollout was handled at DePaolo.

He said that the information was presented to students in an assembly by grade.

“It was focused on the language and that they didn’t have to memorize everything that was on the char,” said Pepe. “I didn’t want them to worry about it, but what I really wanted them to be rest assured is that we have a plan, that we’ve thought these things through.”

The DePaolo Middle School Prinicpal said it’s important for students to be aware that these documents exist, where the chart is posted on the wall, and how to use it in the event that there is an emergency situation.

“Obviously the sensitivity when you’re talking to elementary-aged children is slightly different,” said Thalberg Elementary Principal Bennett. “We talked about the words they may hear over the intercom, about how when they hear those words their immediate response is to get silent and look at the adults, the adults would follow the procedures that we have in place, and that this is something that we have to keep them safe.”

Overall, Bennett said that their responses to the plan at the elementary school level were appropriate.

“We talked about the ways we keep each other safe in our schools. and I can tell you that was echoed through the elementary schools,” said Bennett.

Straineri said that the high school rolled out the plan to students through the morning announcements and said that the school will proceed to reinforce the plan by practicing the proper procedure for five different emergency events by the end of the year.

Board of Education member Zaya Oshana commended the work on the school security and safety plan and the rollout throughout the district.

“It’s written well. It’s clear. It’s easy to understand, and the chart is just easy to follow,” said Oshana about the committee’s work in developing and carrying out the plan. “The amount of time that you took to put this together and the product that you came out with, I think, is amazing…There’s nothing more important than this to make sure our kids and our teachers and staff know what to do in the event of any sort of activity like that.”

Both Board of Education member David Derynoski and Board Chair Goralski echoed Oshana’s compliment about the school security and safety plan, and how important the safety of the children is to the board.

“We’ve always said safety is our number one priority, the safety of our children, the safety of our staff, and the safety of our community, which is really what this document represents,” said Goralski.

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