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School Board Considers More Security – and More Costs

(January 4, 2007) More security – and more expenditures
– are expected for Mamaroneck Schools, if suggestions from the district’s
safety and security committees are included in the upcoming 2007-2008
budget. On January 3rd, the School Board heard a report from the principals
who led their committees in each of the six schools. The committees were
comprised of administrators, parents, teachers and other staff along with
the youth officers from the three municipalities. The recommendations
they offered were based on the results of an evaluation conducted by B.C.L.
Solutions, the consulting group hired to help the district assess its
security needs through a $10,000 allocation in the 2006-2007 budget (see:

Safety Line Cut in Budget).

Some security measures were recommended for all of the schools: improved burglar alarm systems; signage inside and out to identify specific classrooms and areas of the school; a single, monitored point of entry at each school (except at Mamaroneck High School, where there are currently two open entrances and an anticipated third one near the library); identification tags for staff and students; and surveillance equipment.

How might such measures impact school culture and safety? Consideration of that question generated considerable conversation.

Swipe Card System and Greeters

One recommendation that all of the principals agreed would improve security
was a “swipe card system” that would allow teachers who bring
their classes outside via a locked door to be able to re-enter the school
through the same door. Commonly, teachers prop open the door for later
re-entry, nullifying the value of having a single, monitored entry point
when school is in session.

Funding was provided for greeters at the high school and Hommocks in
the current budget, and all four elementary schools are requesting that
additional greeters be included in next year’s budget for them as
well. Steve Castor, Principal at Chatsworth, noted: “The main concern
is the feeling in the parent community that anyone could walk into the
building.” School Board trustee Amy Levere suggested that “having
a greeter doesn’t really address what the person does when they
get into the school.” Bob Barrette of B.C.L. Solutions responded
that greeters need to do more than “greet.” “A good,
competent greeter gets to know the people” who come through the
door, he said. In addition, sign-in sheets, notification of the person
being visited, and ID checks were recommended as part of the greeter’s
job.

Problems with Drop-Off and Pick-Up

The elementary principals also discussed how drop-off and pick-up times created problems at their schools. In the lower grades, the teachers in some schools bring their children outside to be picked up; others have the parents wait at the classroom door (a practice that Superintendent Paul Fried pointed out also has a negative “impact on instruction time”). Murray Principal Jennifer Scazafave reported positively on a change eight weeks ago from in-class to outdoor pick-up, reducing the number of adults who need to come into the school.

Mamaroneck Avenue Principal Carrie Amon described the particular difficulties at her school: with three pre-K classes each day, as well as an after-school literacy program, there is barely a half hour during the day when some children aren’t being brought to school, picked up, or sent out to the playground at lunch.

Additional Security Recommendations

There were also suggestions specific for individual schools:

  • Fencing in the entire grounds at Central School: Principal Lori Presti noted that “there is concern with the location of the school – we are a thoroughfare,” referring to the entrances to the grounds from Trader Joe’s and Stop & Shop.
  • Moving the main office at Central from the second floor (which Ms.
    Presti described as in an “awkward position”) to the first
    floor, where the office staff could exercise more control over who comes
    in and out of the building; Central parent Melany Gray commented that
    the office is currently in a better spot to “see kids come and
    go,” and “get to know them.”
  • Re-configuring the office at the middle school so that parents can drop off forgotten items for their children without actually entering the school: Principal Seth Weitzman noted this is the main reason for parents coming into the school.
  • Repairing the high school PA system, which Principal Mark Orfinger noted is hard to understand in many classrooms and doesn’t work at all in some areas of the school.

Dr. Orfinger suggested that particularly at the high school, which is large and rambling, surveillance equipment would be very helpful in alerting the office when doors are kept open by students and in tracking down students who set off fire alarms and mar surfaces with graffiti. Having them in place might also serve as a deterrent, he added.

Who Are We Protecting the Children From?

School Board president Cecilia Absher asked “Who is the infiltrator?”
Who are we trying to protect our children from? Bob Barrette of B.C.L.
Solutions responded that “disgruntled, non-custodial parents,”
were the most likely to take children away, along with strangers “who
are more apt to be around today than before.” He added that most
of these kidnapping incidents happen outside the school building itself.

Joan Bailey, whose younger son is a senior at the high school, said “I worry about the overkill factor” and “changing the culture of our schools and community.” But other parents attending the meeting, most of whom had served on one of the building security committees, disagreed. Jonathan Sacks, an MAS parent commented, “I was struck when I came here that there was no security” and that “no risk assessment was done here.”

School Board trustee Michael Jacobson noted that “anything we do could fundamentally change the culture of the building. There is no way to get around it. If you want to increase the security of the schools in any way, you are going to change the culture.” Debbie Harwin a Murray parent, said, “People do realize that it would cause change, but we have to do what is in our power to keep our children safe. You are hopefully making changes for the better.”

Balancing Security and Costs

Miss Absher noted that we need to “achieve something of a balance” and referred to “the cost factors that would also have to be weighed.” Issues of intra-school safety, i.e., problems and violence between individual students, such as occurred at Columbine, was also a concern. Dr. Weitzman underscored that “the best thing we can do for school security is to know our kids and nurture them.”

Assistant Superintendent for Operations Christine Grucci, Director of
P.E., Health Services and Athletics Bari Suman and Director of Facilities
George McNally will be overseeing the implementation of any new security
measures that are included in the 07-08 budget. The first budget presentation
will be at the School Board study session on Tuesday, March 6 th at 7:30
pm in the MHS Library conference room.

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