Community Collaboration Aids Elementary Safety
From an increased officer presence to new in-classroom interactions, a community-wide effort is strengthening to ensure the safety of students at elementary schools across the Lancaster Central School District.
“It takes all of us to keep these buildings safe,” said John Zimmerman, a school resource officer who has been assigned to the district’s elementary schools for the past three years. “We all work together.”
Among those efforts is a new school liaison program in collaboration with the Lancaster Police Department, which has assigned four of its officers to make visits to William Street School, Como Park Elementary, Hillview Elementary and Court Street Elementary along with a Depew Police Department officer who is assigned to John A. Sciole Elementary. The liaison program is in addition to the district’s three regularly assigned school resource officers.
When officers visit schools, their time can include observing student arrivals, checking the exterior and doorways of schools to make buildings safer and visiting classrooms. Officers like SRO Zimmerman also make hundreds of presentations throughout the year to classrooms and student groups on topics like lockdown procedures, protecting personal information on the internet and bicycle safety.
Officers in the new liaison program include Jessica Sparfeld, a 19-year department veteran who supports Como Park Elementary. Officer Sparfeld said the presence of SROs and officers in the liaison program can develop meaningful connections with students and help demystify their work.
“It's nice they get a real interaction with a police officer, and the students realize you're just another person,” she said.
The law enforcement presence is noticed by students, staff and families in the community, and can help when schools plan drills and other safety activities.
“It gives us a whole layer of protection and expertise,” said Molly Marcinelli, principal at Como Park Elementary.
Mrs. Marcinelli added the SROs like Officer Zimmerman, along with other law enforcement that visit the school, are given “rockstar” status by students.
“The kids love him, and they see him as a community member who is there to help, is friendly, and is someone they can trust,” she said.
The collaborative effort at the elementary level is in addition to three school resource officers who serve the district’s schools full time and other safety resources already in place at each building. Safety committees at the building and district-wide level, along with community and regional partnerships, are also key in developing safety procedures. Additionally, the district has committed millions of dollars in capital improvements and budgetary resources to make school buildings safer.
“Every administrator, faculty and staff member, SRO and student plays a role in keeping our buildings safe,” said Jamie Phillips, Assistant Superintendent of Business and Support Services, during the Board of Education’s December meeting.
More information about the district’s safety planning can be found by visiting https://www.lancasterschools.org/domain/2002.