The ORR School Committee is weighing different methods for improving student and faculty safety at the high school.
Superintendent Doug White addressed the committee at their regular meeting on Wednesday, January 9, and praised the district’s staff and students for their response to the December 14, 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
White said he’s been in contact with the local police and fire departments to devise a system of safety drills and scenarios for school practice in the event of such an emergency.
Facilities Director Gene Jones said that they are currently researching new locking systems for school doors and examining the effectiveness of security cameras around the buildings.
“We checked on all the lighting systems. We went through all the cameras for the access [to front doors]. We made sure they’re all functional,” Jones said.
Tri-Town schools have instituted stricter access rules for each campus so main office staff can better track who enters and exits the schools. Jones said that they are looking into creating new staff ID cards and key fobs that would further restrict access to the buildings.
Contractors who regularly work at Tri-Town schools may also be required to provide a CORI check on each of their employees.
ORR Principal Michael Devoll said he wants to push photo IDs for everyone in his school, including students. He told the story of a school that had an undercover cop dressed in jeans and a hoodie enter the building through the rear and wander the halls. The officer was in the building for about 15 minutes before he was stopped and questioned by faculty.
“We’re great at lockdown drills, but it really got to me when I heard about this,” he said.
ORRJHS Principal Kevin Brigioli said they are looking into redesigning the front entrance of the junior high school, which provides no vestibule area between the exterior door and interior of the main foyer.
“Our entry way is a point of concern. Once you’re in the building, you’re in the building,” he said.
In addition to improving the structural safety systems around the schools, the committee also broached the idea of using existing faculty as safety monitors around the building or hiring an outside individual to help provide better security.
ORR Principal Devoll also said that the school is experimenting with a new daily schedule system that allows more time for students to access their lockers.
Due to recent discussions of school safety, ORR imposed a new policy on January 7 restricting the presence of backpacks and jackets in classrooms and the cafeteria, requiring all students to regularly use their lockers throughout the day.
Devoll said many students carry backpacks that weigh 50 pounds or more all day, which can be detrimental to students’ health. He also said that often times students feel as if they have to carry all their possessions with them at all times.
“We’ve got to figure out why students aren’t using their lockers,” he said.
Devoll said they shortened homeroom by one minute, truncated lunch periods, and eliminated a snack-time segment between first and second blocks. Total passing time between classes has been extended from four to six minutes.
“We asked the students to hang in there and give it a shot,” he said, noting that they may still need to tweak the schedule. “Freshmen and sophomores have been fine but juniors and seniors have been more resistant.”
He also said that some students started a Facebook petition protesting the new schedule and backpack policy.
In other business, Latin instructor, Judy Prétat came before the school committee to discuss the possibility of organizing an out of state field trip. Last year, she formed a trip to Rome, attended by about 20 students. This time, she’s looking to take her senior students to the Getty Villa in California. The villa is a replica of one that was consumed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 C.E.
“It’s an educational center dedicated to the studies of ancient Greece and Rome,” she said. She had been researching options that focused on ancient artifacts here in the United States.
“I started looking into the villa museum and thought it might be an opportunity to take a senior trip,” she said.
Prétat said she would like to offer the trip to all 14 of her Latin V students. One other chaperone is planned to accompany her and the students. She’s already done most of the legwork researching housing options, transportation, and created a tentative itinerary for the trip. The entire journey would be five days only cause the students to miss two days of classes. Prétat estimated the cost at anywhere between $650-$750 per student, a considerable drop compared to the trip to Rome, which cost about $2100 per student.
The ORR School Committee voted in favor of authorizing the trip, but Prétat will also have to organize fundraising, which will be brought up at a future meeting once those details are known.
The King Arthur Flour project is well underway, according to assistant superintendent Dr. Elise Frangos. She said over 3,000 lbs of flour were delivered to ORRJHS on Tuesday for the educational assemblies that will focus on teaching students the science behind baking bread.
About 900 students around the Tri-Town will participate in the program, which will give each student two baking kits to take home. The kids will then make two loaves, one for themselves and their families, and the other to be given to one of four community out-reach programs.
“Next Monday morning it will be expected and kindly appreciated if each of the parents can make sure their kids have their bread tied up in the plastic bags, ready to be donated,” Frangos said.
She also mentioned that the district has hired a new reading teacher to help boost the effectiveness of after-school reading programs. The new faculty member would be compensated via Title I funding.
ORR is also working to redesign some of its curriculum in an effort to meet the interests of students interested in politics.
“Our students are very interested and motivated by politics these days, but really we don’t get into much modern political theory,” said Devoll.
They are looking at a half-year elective course as part of the Social Studies department, possibly offered online instead of in the classroom.
He also said the school is looking into ways to widen the foreign language programs and to offer more ways for students to earn more credit for AP classes.
The ORR School Committee adjourned to executive session to further discuss contract negotiations.
By Eric Tripoli