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The Lancaster Central School District provides an exceptional educational experience for its children, but nationwide, school safety and security is an ongoing concern for students, parents, faculty, staff, and communities. Following up on my April 2019 column, I’d like to provide an update on some noteworthy changes with respect to safety, some that have come directly from recommendations by nationally-recognized safety expert Don Shomette, who spent eight days in our schools in March 2019.
Mr. Shomette asked some very simple questions to our building safety committees while he was here. What are they doing with respect to safety and security? What are their strengths? What makes them uniquely different; and how can they make it better? His final recommendations had a common theme; from a safety perspective, the next step in shifting from good to great here in Lancaster is to focus on heightening the engagement between students and adults.
For example, Mr. Shomette recommended adjustments in student arrival and dismissal procedures at each building. Along with logistical changes, his recommendations included increased faculty and staff visibility throughout the day. This presence provides positive engagement with students as they arrive in the morning and has the added benefits of enhanced surveillance, increased access control, and an improved sense of ownership of the buildings and property. Como Park Principal, Molly Marcinelli, said, “Mr. Shomette advised that the most important thing to focus on is ‘super engagement’ and ensuring that students are having multiple positive interactions with staff throughout each day.”
Every principal, building-level safety committee member, faculty, and staff member in the district took his recommendations to heart and made major shifts in our arrival and dismissal procedures for the start of this school year. At a recent meeting, our administrators were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the difference these simple changes have made.
Parent safety committee volunteer, Mrs. Toni Kaminski said, “My son and daughter both noticed the presence of faculty and adults outside the school when they’re arriving. They noticed it right away. I noticed it too.”
One of Mr. Shomette’s basic tenets of improved ownership of the buildings and property is being addressed at John A. Sciole Elementary in their pilot launch of the Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) program. In this program, fathers, grandfathers, step-fathers, uncles, and other father-like figures have been vetted to volunteer and serve in a variety of school activities as assigned by the principal. In Erie County, JAS is the first to become a Watch D.O.G.S. school, a nationally recognized program. Parent, Tara Doster-Piskothy brought the program to Principal Carrie Greene’s attention.
“The children know and love the ‘DOGS’ who are given a walkie talkie and serve as an extra set of eyes, a visible male presence and a positive male role model,” Ms. Doster-Piskothy said.
“We are proud to have these volunteers as a part of the John A. Sciole family,” Mrs. Greene said. She will be sharing her experiences with this pilot program with the other elementary principals.
Another example of our concerted efforts is the commitment shown by our School Resource Officer team in leading the way to reach a districtwide goal of locking down our buildings in seven seconds. SROs, administrators, and members of the safety committee attended a workshop presented by Mr. Shomette on “The 7 Second Lockdown Drill.” With physical changes and alterations in place in the summer, the SROs and district staff will be working closely with each school to institute these new strategies for lockdown drills. “Statistically speaking, you have a 99% chance of surviving an incident if you get your door locked and closed in seven seconds,” Officer Loewer said.
The school resource officer program is a shared collaboration between the Town of Lancaster and the district. We are fortunate to have such a great team of SROs in place. Officer Stacy Maute was recently assigned to Lancaster High School. As the senior member of our SRO team, Officer William Loewer is assigned to Lancaster Middle School. Officer Angela Greco has been a welcome and visible presence at our elementary buildings since the addition of a third SRO position last winter. This addition and Officer Greco’s interaction with our young people has been outstanding.
Finally, one additional recent safety-related change involved window and door reinforcement. The district continues to harden interior and exterior windows and doors, with more than 11,000 square feet of security film applied throughout nine of our facilities. A portion of the district’s 2018-19 one-time $500,000 special allocation for security enhancements paid for this project.
“I just think there’s a lot being done that might not be so apparent. There are a lot of tiny things happening behind the scenes keeping our kids safe,” Mrs. Kaminski said.
While this is truly only a snapshot of all that is being done, when it comes to the safety of your children, we will never stop striving from being very good to being great.
Michael J. Vallely, Ph.D.