BOE President Cerretani: 'Our Schools Are Safe'
District looking at ways to improve systems already in place
When she addressed members of the community at the most recent meeting of the Howell Public Schools Board of Education, President Mary Cerretani had a simple message for the community. "Our schools are safe and that's the message our children should be hearing," she said.
Cerretani said that in light of the recent school shooting in Connecticut the district is working with both a safety task force and a safety committee to look at what is working for the township and see ways they can improve the safety for everyone in the district. "We are addressing areas that can enhance our security," she said.
That work has included the creation of a Safety Director position and at last week's meeting board member Tim O'Brien said introduced more recommendations from the safety task force. Their work has been broken into two subcommittees, one focusing on infrastructure and technology and one looking at safety procedures in the district.
O'Brien said that the procedure subcommittee, which was headed by Adelphia School Principal Alysson Keelen, has been working on getting uniformity around the district for student arrival and departure. That includes checking identification for parents coming to the school and making their exit from the building as "expeditious," as possible. In recent months the district has initiated new entry protocols and the subcommittee said those should continue and be looked at further to ensure it is the most effective method possible.
The subcommittee also looked at ways to handle events where there are a large number of visitors coming to the building. Keelen and her committee determined the best way to handle that is through advanced planning between teachers and staff in the building. That can include guest lists so visitors badges can be prepared in advance and help watching the doors to ensure only the proper people enter the building.
Keelen's group also agreed that more training was needed for the staff for emergency situations particularly during student arrival and dismissal. That training, they said should include working with not only the bus drivers but also the Howell Police Department and school resource officers to ensure people are prepared for an emergency situation.
Another suggested change is checking visitor's identification prior to entering the building. This can help ensure safety while also making sure only the proper people enter the building. That also includes contractors working in the building and staff from other buildings who will be traveling around the district.
Many of the changes proposed by the protocol subcommittee can be done at little or no cost to the district. The work by the infrastructure committee however may come at an additional and varying cost depending on the size of the project.
This subcommittee also had a list of possible improvements and ranked them in terms of priority for the schools. Some of the early suggestions include maintaining and upgrading intercoms and the installation of alarm buttons for use in emergency situations.
They also suggested that at the elementary schools the entry door cameras be upgraded to IP cameras so they can be seen on computer monitors and other remote locations. The committee also suggested continuous monitoring of the district's communications systems and the implementation of "Push to talk," devices for "command" staff across the district.
The district has already ordered "door jamb strike magnets," that can be used during lockdown situations in a faster way than is currently available in the schools. In addition, the committee also suggested performing a district wide Risk Assessment to see what other changes should be made.
Other changes that may come include physical changes to the entryways to the buildings. Business Administrator Ron Sanasac said large projects like that will be brought before the board for their consideration before any action is taken to determine its cost and effectiveness.
The board unanimously approved the suggestions of the task force, especially after being reassured that any big ticket items would be brought to them before being enacted.
Board member John Van Noy, who is also on the finance committee, said he was glad to see the work done so far by the task force. "It was so incredibly impressive to hear the details," he said. "Many of these are not a significant dollar expense. It was surprising when we realized many of these things were relatively inexpensive."
As part of his presentation O'Brien said architectural improvements would be made during the summer so as not to interfere with the educational experiences of students.
O'Brien said it was important to remember that after a 2005 risk assessment the district made changes that were "state of the art," at the time and that any additional changes would only add to the safety of students and staff. "It's not that we're not doing a good job, it's what can we do to improve upon that," he said.
The next meeting for the board is scheduled for March 6 at Middle School North.