Nope, Not a Driveway for the Superintendent

It’s funny how things sometimes work out. When I arrived in Springville in the beginning of March, 2016, we had a desperate need to complete a capital project to attend to our parking lots, sidewalks, HVAC and roofs, among other things. The district taxpayers had voted down a capital project in December of 2015 so we needed to get something back out that our residents could support. We kept hearing, “we’ll support what the district needs to do but not the enhancement items like a new gym”. So we put up a project that attended to what we needed to do to take care of the district facilities and grounds without the enhancement items. Thankfully, our taxpayers passed the project and we’ve been in the midst of that construction since June.

After the bids were complete, they were so favorable that we were able to complete all three of our priority lists of alternates (items we put out to bid in case there’s money to do so). There were a couple of items that I couldn’t see a reason to complete, but our facilities director, Larry Strauss, argued to keep in. One of those was the access road at the back of SMS. I kept saying, “why do we need to widen that road? No one even uses that road. Why do I care if the delivery trucks can’t make the turn?”

I believe that we have to listen to the experts within our system. Larry fought for that road and so I believed him. He was right. I was wrong. And the funny thing? Also on those three lists of alternates was a move of the district office to the back of the middle school—where I look out of my window and see the trucks trying to negotiate the turn to the loading dock. And I can clearly see why the road needed to be widened and paved.

More important, several people have contacted me over the past couple of years about youth soccer and the way people park and drive in our soccer fields. The concerned residents cited safety concerns with cars moving through areas where our students are walking and playing. We’re adding parking spots along the access road so that our soccer families–especially our less mobile residents–can have a designated place to park that’s closer to the fields.

And the other thing we’ve noticed? We don’t have an exit on the back of the entire SMS where teachers and students have swipe card access, so we’re adding swipe card access.

Please don’t assume we’re just ignoring a problem that you’ve noticed. Maybe I’ve not seen something in the same way that you have.  Let us know when you see an area of improvement within our district. Make some noise. We’ll listen and we’ll do whatever we can to make it better.

So now you know why we’re doing work at the back of SMS. It’s not to add a driveway for the superintendent. There’s plenty of parking in front of SMS. That’s where you’ll find my car.

SGI–Please Share Your Thoughts

As a leadership team, we set a goal for this year—to listen carefully to the members of our school community (YOU!). We will be engaging you in thought exchanges over the course of the school year. It’s a simple three step process. We ask a question, you share your thoughts, and you rate the thoughts of others. Please watch this video and respond by telling us what you think.

Afterwards, it’s important to go back into the exchange and rate the thoughts of others. In this way, we can get a sense of what’s most important to everyone in our school community.

Here’s the link for the adults in the SGI school community: https://my.thoughtexchange.com/#497392485

There’s a student thought exchange in which our students have the chance to answer the same questions. Thank you in advance to everyone who’s asked to give students the chance to participate within your time with them. If you’re a student reading this post, here’s the link for our SGI students: https://my.thoughtexchange.com/#116266772

I’ll share what we learn in a future blog post that’s emailed when the thought exchange ends so that everyone can discover what we’ve learned. Thank you!

Colden Elementary School, Rumors and Truth

Late in the summer, I realized that our enrollment at Colden Elementary was low enough that we have only 11/12 students in each of our kindergarten and first grade classes, with under 30 students in each of grades 2-4. This led to my decision to move three teaching assistants from CES to SES. Before making this change, we had five TA’s assigned to CES with an enrollment of 16o students and four TA’s assigned to SES with an enrollment of 553 students. That just didn’t make good sense.

I think that moving the three TA’s may have led to a rumor that I’m hearing that “we have a three year plan to close Colden Elementary”. I want our entire school community to know that we do not have a three year plan to close CES. 

We do need to study our enrollment as a district. We cannot continue to behave as a 2500 student district when we’re a 1678 student district. We are having a transportation study done this year. One of the questions we’ve asked for the study is “can you look at the lines of enrollment to determine if there’s a different distribution that would more evenly place our elementary students at CES and SES?”

We do need to have a discussion about Colden Elementary. The big question: How to balance the desires of our CES families with our responsibility to the taxpayers? I don’t know the answer to that question and I don’t know what we’ll decide to do moving forward as a district. We haven’t even studied or talked about it yet. But we will.

Here’s what I do know.

  1. We cannot ignore or postpone this conversation. It’s my responsibility to lead it. Considering what to do with a beloved school building with declining enrollment is a very difficult, emotional topic. I will retire from SGI some day. When I do, it will have been irresponsible if I haven’t led that difficult conversation.
  2. Families in the enrollment area for Colden Elementary love that little school. Our teachers and principal love that little school. I love that little school.
  3. We will respect those families and employees at CES and make any future decisions carefully and with input from our community.
  4. As our student population declines, our budget cannot continue to increase. We’re required this year to begin to analyze and report our per pupil expenditures, by building. That will give us information to consider about potential cost savings with any closure. I don’t even want to say the word “closure” because again, we don’t know what we’re going to do next.
  5. We are engaging our school community in thought exchanges this year. The first one starts tomorrow. I promise we will devote a thought exchange to Colden Elementary. We’ll give some relevant facts and ask everyone, “what do you think we should do about the impact of declining enrollment on Colden Elementary?”
  6. We will listen to our school community. We’ll study the facts. We’ll make the best decision possible that serves the needs of all of our students and families.

APPR Reviews and Ridiculousness

We are one of the fifty school districts that has been chosen to have our APPR, Annual Professional Performance Review, plan “audited” or reviewed by NYSED. There are as many different plans in New York State as there are school districts. At the state level, APPR isn’t something that’s been determined by our NYS Education Department alone but instead has come to us through legislation initiated by Governor Cuomo.

As an eleventh year superintendent, I will say that the APPR process as it is now is a mess. When it was new, and I was a newer superintendent, I had hope that the APPR plan would help us to broker change and lead to school improvement. I was naive. Now I know it’s a giant exercise in compliance, a negotiable nuisance, a confusing time waster with student learning objectives for teachers and principals that hasn’t led to school improvement but instead has distracted us from the real work of improving learning opportunities for students. It’s over-emphasized the importance of testing our students. I over-emphasized the importance as a leader, before I wised up. School administrators are slammed with 1000 important tasks and we don’t need this time waster. But, still we comply. We do our jobs. We make the evaluation system–which we’ve always had, believed in and used effectively in the districts I’ve worked in–work. We have meaningful conversations with teachers and we don’t care about the APPR scores or the HEDI scale.  

But that’s not the point of this post. The APPR Reviews with NYSED are even worse. Someone reviews the plan and then calls to tell you what you need to fix.  The plan takes hours to negotiate with a team of teachers and administrators. We cannot make changes without reconvening that group. Here are the initial two points the NYSED letter and reviewer via phone call made:

  1. you can’t count domains #1 and #4 of the Danielson rubric in the evaluative score (even though I’ve heard Ms. Danielson herself say that the rubric without those is meaningless and that it was never intended for the purpose SED has reduced it to). I knew this one from my previous district so okay, we don’t agree, but we’ll comply. We’re still going to evaluate domains #1 and #4 and have the important conversations but we won’t include it in the evaluative score.
  2. teachers with courses ending in a Regents exam can’t be included in using the building SLO, they have to have SLOs for their Regents exam specifically. Okay. Again, we’ll comply.

So we convene our committee of teachers, pay them to come in and work in the summer, resubmit the plan. Then the woman who’s reviewing the plans calls to tell me the additional points she’d like to make about the plan. What? Why didn’t you tell us those things in the first place? Now, on the first call I kept quiet when she talked about the value of the pre-assessments. I’m getting old and I realize this is the woman’s job so why should I bother trying to argue my points? On this call, I said, “listen, we’re just trying to comply. Please don’t give me the reasons why this is important. Just tell me what we have to fix.”

Then I talked to a younger administrator in another district in our region who is going through the same process and started with an initial call that their plan had been the best review of all! Eureka! Someone’s doing it right! Hang on. . . that was followed up with a two hour call citing all of the things they needed to do differently, including what evidence they’re collecting, etc., etc.

Thus my post. To every young administrator, there are those things in our profession that are worth fighting for and attending to on a daily basis. There are those things that you will do that will make a significant difference in the lives of the children you serve. Leadership in a school, particularly a principal, can be a powerful way to make a difference. APPR is not that difference nor is it the place to spend your time and energy. The reviews are ridiculous and you’re far too busy changing the world within your school to waste time on ridiculousness.

Let those of us who have been around a while fight the good fight at the state level and have a voice that hopefully leads to change. I believe in our Commissioner of Education, MaryEllen Elia. She’s done our work. She gets it and she listens.

If you’ve had a review and this post reaches you, please email me at kmoritz@springvillegi.org to tell me about your experience. I will carry those notes with me as I co-chair a committee on APPR for NYSCOSS. Let’s fix this broken system.

The Busy Months of Summer

Today is our last day for our Class of 2018 seniors, graduation is coming up on June 23 and the weather is too beautiful for anyone to be inside after one of our long Buffalo winters. Within these last two week we have end of the year award ceremonies, moving up days, staff recognition, kindergarten celebrations, Prom, and both final and Regents exams.

Believe it or not, as the current school year winds down to a close, school administrators are gearing up for the new school year. Counselors work hard with administrators to develop schedules that optimize time for learning. Secretaries are busy with purchase orders to be sure that everything is ordered and delivered on time for the start of the 2018-19 school year. Most important of all is our hiring process in which we give due diligence to interviewing and selecting the very best new teachers and employees to work with our students.

As an administrative team, we focus on our learning in July and August through our administrative planning meetings, jumping back into the change.school Modern Learners network, and a book study. I can’t wait to read and discuss Talking from 9 to 5, Women and Men at Work by Deborah Tannen with our Admin Team!

We have a million and one things happening now and through the summer with the capital projects, including about half of our new parking lots and sidewalks with the other half being completed next summer. Hopefully the Cazenovia Creek emergency project at Colden Elementary will be able to move forward also. Please have patience as we work to improve SGI!

I cannot wait for everyone to see our new track, fencing, Press Box, and entranceway to the field upon our return for the 2018-19 school year! The new locker room at SHS is remarkable, the Natatorium is receiving much needed upgrades, and the district office move to the middle school will take place in early September. Look to see a new parent drop off in a separate zone from the buses at SMS next year too!

We’re very grateful to our SGI taxpayers for approving our current capital project and our collaboration with Alfred State and Erie 2 BOCES for the P-TECH center that will open in September, 2020 with classes conducted at SHS over the next two years. Thank you for your support! It feels like it takes forever to go from a public vote on a project through approval from the NYS Education Department through bidding and then construction. At long last, we’ll see progress!

Have a wonderful summer everyone! We’re here if you need us.

Kimberly Moritz, Superintendent of Schools, Springville-Griffith Institute Central School District

District Office Moving to SMS

Under our current capital project, as I’ve written here previously, we had favorable bids to the extent that we are able to include all of our alternates in the work being conducted now. Alternates are those things that we would have liked to do but for which we didn’t believe the current capital project budget would allow. Alternates have to be within the scope of the voter approved capital project and they are also require SED approval.  There were three prioritized lists, including things like better lights in all of our parking lots and on the lowest priority was moving the district offices into the Springville Middle School. We wanted to move but put every other need first because it was the right thing to do. Luckily, we were able to accept all alternates under our current capital project.

Why are we moving the district offices into a school building? Two main reasons.

1. Financially, it’s a smart move. Any work that we do on our current district office receives zero state aid back because it’s not a student occupied space. That roof we had to replace last summer? Local taxpayer cost because there’s no state aid on the district office building.

If the P-TECH project passes tomorrow, this building becomes a student occupied space and will receive state aid as our other school buildings do, at 79.8% of the aidable work. That’s a reduction in our costs of maintaining our buildings to our SGI taxpayers.

Also, the lease agreement with BOCES for the local share of the capital project to build the P-TECH? That covers the FULL term of our payback of local share. I’ve heard a couple of people suggest that it’s only for five years—that’s NOT true. We have a signed lease agreement, a legal document vetted by Hodgson Russ, one of our school attorneys, that holds BOCES to the full amount of the local share for the project. What’s that mean? We aren’t going to be left “holding the bag” as some have worried.

2. Why would we want the business office and superintendent separated from the students and personnel who we’re here to support? I’ve worked in five districts over my 29 year career. All but one of them had the district offices within a school building. We were an integral part of the daily operations and support of students and staff. In a separate building as we are now, it’s easier to get a separatist, ivory tower mentality. One of the things I heard over and over again when I started here was a desire from employees, the BOE and families for us to change from a “top/down hierarchical” system to a more inclusive one.  We’re a leadership team–all of us helping one another–there’s no reason to separate two of us.  And the concern that the visitors coming to the district office may be unsafe has absolutely not been my experience in ten years of leading as a school superintendent. 

The district office staff includes me, the district clerk/my secretary, a school business administrator and her four staff members–that’s seven people to accommodate in the new district office space at SMS. It’s under renovation now and I’ve been in there. There is plenty of space for us AND we’ll be there to directly support our families, students and staff.

Originally we studied a move to SES but ultimately decided against it because it meant taking three of the most desirable classrooms in that building. At SMS, we displaced one teacher. Our family and consumer science teacher was moved to another space. No longer does SED require middle school students to take home and careers. We will begin to offer it as an elective, along with coding and technology classes, at some point in the future. There is less focus on sewing, cooking and child care and more focus on careers, future planning and student interest.

We have a well thought out plan for the district office that changes the “way it’s always been” in a way that makes us more approachable, accessible and effective. It brings us closer to our students and transforms a building which is a financial burden to the local taxpayer into a student occupied space that receives state aid for allowable work.

If you have any questions about the proposed P-TECH project or any other decision here at SGI, please know that I’m here to talk. I’ll answer any questions you have and consider your ideas. Please stop by 307 Newman St, call me at 592-3230 or email me at kmoritz@springvillegi.org. Thank you.

P-TECH, a Different Pathway

We’ve been working on the district budget newsletter that includes information about Proposition #3, a capital project to transform the District Office building into a P-TECH center. P-TECH stands for Pathways in Technology Early College High School. Our BOCES, Erie 2, in partnership with Alfred State, planned to open a center for the school districts in the northern end of our 27 school districts and we are delighted to partner with them.

The newsletter has a formal Q&A and lots of information about the details of the project. Following is a more informal Q&A to address some of the questions I’ve been hearing in our community. Please note that all of the answers below are only valid if the SGI community passes Proposition #3 on May 15, 2018.

Q1. Why do we need to build a new school building for this program, when we have so many empty classrooms in the high school? 

This is a full school–grades 9-12, plus 1-2 years for the Alfred State Associates degree. It’s not like the CTE programs we know well–students will receive their entire education in a projects based environment and neither SHS nor any of our other buildings have that kind of open space.

The program will open in SHS in September, 2018. But remember that will just be the first year, the 9th grade cohort. Right now that enrollment is at 21 students from all of our surrounding districts and they will need two-three classrooms at SHS with one office for their principal. In September, 2019, they will need four-six classrooms with one office. This affords us the time to transform the district office into the new P-TECH center through the capital project, planning to open the center in September, 2020.

There aren’t a lot of empty classrooms at SHS either. I suspect some teachers won’t be happy about any disruption to the spaces they call their own. I also know that a program that benefits students–some of these students  might not otherwise graduate or go to college at all–trumps that discomfort. And it’s only for one-two years. I shared a classroom, two teacher desks at the front of the room, for the entire ten years I was a teacher. I know our teachers will consider the greater good and be good sports for a year or two of inconvenience. I also know that SHS Principal Bialasik is working hard to minimize any disruption.

Q2. Will this take students away from our high school electives and lead to a reduction in teachers at SHS?

No. SGI is committing to send only 3-5 students per year to this program. This in fact will be a great way for our technology teachers to collaborate with teachers in a center that’s focused on electrical maintenance and computer information systems—a project based environment. The new center will be SGI owned, yet leased to Erie 2 BOCES at an annual rate that covers the local taxpayer share. This will be guaranteed in our long term lease agreement with Erie 2 BOCES.

That’s another piece to consider. When BOCES does a project that incurs leasing or capital costs, those costs are shared by the 27 component districts, of which SGI is one. IF this P-TECH center were built in another component district, we would still share in the cost through the capital portion of our BOCES budget. We share in the cost of the Dunkirk P-TECH center now, with zero students traveling to Dunkirk. If we share in the cost anyway, why wouldn’t we want to have the center right here on Newman Street?

Q3. How will students be selected?

The SMS staff, including counselors, principal, and technology teachers worked together to first visit the Dunkirk P-TECH center and second to talk with families of students who show an affinity for STEM and for whom they believe this pathway might be beneficial. We had an informational night for families of 8th grade students, with several families in attendance.

I’ve heard the P-TECH student described as someone who you know is smart, but doesn’t necessarily get great grades. Someone who loves project based work and a different way of looking at things. Often, this is a student who we might worry won’t otherwise graduate.  For the 2018-19 school year, we have four students enrolled with a fifth student considering it. We did not have to turn away any student with interest. Check out this video to better understand the program.

Q4. How will it be staffed? Will it be local people? 

As a BOCES program, the hiring decisions will be made by BOCES.  As always, including for SGI positions, the best candidates will be hired. If they’re also district residents, that’s a great bonus.

Q5. Who will determine if it can be used by the public? 

Just like all of our other district facilities, there’s a facilities use request form that needs to be completed and we do our best to accommodate those requests. As with every other aspect of this P-TECH project, this is a partnership with Erie 2 BOCES and Alfred State. Will we open up the electrical labs to anyone who wants to fill out a facilities use form? Unlikely given the equipment within but then we don’t sign out our Technology labs at SMS or SHS to anyone who fills out a request either.

We’ve opened up our facilities significantly since my arrival–to our staff and our community. In keeping with that idea, we will certainly consider and accommodate any requests that make sense.

Please know that the gym/cafeteria spaces planned in the project are NOT full size, they are multi-purpose spaces used for the full education of the students within the program. As with any project, we had to scale it so that the local share/portion being paid in the lease with BOCES was affordable and the state aid on the project maximized. These are likely spaces we will be able to open up to the community, unlike the electrical labs.

Q6. A community resident spoke at a BOE meeting and asked if “this is more of the rich get richer”.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. This program helps some of our neediest families.

Initially I had doubts about sending students to P-TECH. I thought, “why should we pay for a student to attend a program like this?” Then I learned that the cost for a P-TECH student is actually less than the cost we pay to educate an SGI student AND we will receive BOCES aid back on the tuition. Our state and federal taxes also subsidize countless college students every year.

Every student at SGI is our responsibility. Some need a different path to success. I’m proud to be able to offer that pathway right here on Newman Street, if the SGI taxpayers pass the Proposition #3, capital project on May 15, 2018.

Please know that you can always reach me at 592-3230 or via email at kmoritz@springvillegi.org. Or stop by our offices at 307 Newman Street! I’m also pleased to accept any invitations to speak at a community event. 

On the Student Walkout and School Safety in Springville:

Dear Families:

Today is the student led National School Walk Out to bring awareness to school violence. Maybe it’s all of the work we’ve been doing in change.school about student agency or maybe it’s because we as a school district cannot endorse or participate in a planned walk out during the school day, since doing so would be in violation of public education, or maybe I worry about the disruption to our school day for every student protest that follows this one–but I did not send a letter to our families informing them of what we, as a district, are doing today. Why? Because as a school district, it isn’t our event and what we planned was to create the conditions under which students could express their voice safely.

I should have sent a letter home.  In addition to the National Student Walk Out, we had a student make a mistake on Friday for which we did everything right–gave our strongest school consequence and worked with law enforcement, continue to work with law enforcement–but for which we can never inform an entire school community about the mistake of someone’s child. Because we are a small town, rumors have gone wild. Families want communication from the school district, from me—for a student led walkout that isn’t our event and on a student discipline issue for which we’re not permitted to share details.

One of the most challenging problems is always balancing the desire people have to know everything with the confidentiality required when dealing with a personnel issue or a student issue. Social media exacerbates that challenge significantly because when we can’t or don’t say anything, others are happy to fill that void.

Here’s an example. Today is a snow day because the weather in Colden and Collins Center was horrible this morning and the advice from our highway supervisors and transportation supervisor was to close due to unsafe driving conditions. I knew when I had to close for snow that some people would make an assumption that it was because of rumors they heard about a student threat. This is not true. Our schools are safe, we investigate every complaint, and we follow through with law enforcement and student discipline when necessary and appropriate.

My communication with families on the student walkout should have been better. I’m sorry. I should have sent a letter to families explaining my thinking and our leadership team’s approach for today, just as I sent an email to our employees. Even if I just explained that we weren’t planning the event, I should have told you we were planning a response.

Instead, I insisted that we spend our time and energy on improving school safety—what should be the result of the student led walk out nationally. We are certainly aware of the walk out, we’ve talked to student leaders, we’ve listened, we’ve planned to have a quiet, respectful response to any of our students who plan to participate. As adults in the school system we always seem to rush to control and plan every aspect of the day–I saw this as a student led event. And if our Springville students chose not to lead anything? Then it is school as it always is for us. For as many of our families who wanted SOMETHING DONE, there were those who said, “I don’t want this to touch my child” and “I don’t want her worrying about this”.

We ARE evaluating all of our practices, consulting with law enforcement experts and moving forward with changes that will take us from a “soft target” to a “hard target”. That’s an adult conversation. That’s been taking place for about a year at Springville, through our safety audit with improved practices, our increased emergency drills to practice our responses, at our leadership tables and at our BOE meeting on 3/20/18. That conversation is OUR RESPONSIBILITY, not a student walk out to get everyone’s attention with an “enough is enough” message. 

We must continue to pay attention to every child, to connect with families, to offer mental health services through our Family Support Center. Those measures are vitally important but I believe we also have to consider our security. We can’t just walk into a museum, an art gallery, a government office, or a small town courtroom without some measure of security ‘clearance’ and yet for years, we didn’t even lock all of our doors.

We do now. And we ask for ID. And we’re learning about a technology that will help us  to better secure our buildings. And there are a number of other measures, large and small–including keeping doors locked to every classroom too–that will help us to better keep our children safe.

As I listen to law enforcement and school security advisors, I believe we have to follow their advice to the extent possible. I also believe we need to listen to our school district employees and their ideas–because school safety and security is the responsibility of every adult in our school community.

Our “see something, say something” mantra is important. We’re a small school and we need to pay attention to each other. No child should go unnoticed or unloved within our doors. We have to support those in need. Our school employees do whatever they can to help and support our children and that includes counseling, strong school consequences when someone makes a mistake that may harm others, and the involvement of law enforcement. Our Family Support Center, designed to help our families in crisis, is an incredible resource.

On March 20, 2018, Sergeant Tom Kelly, NYS Police Emergency Management, and Tony Olivo, retired US Marshal who conducted our security audit, will talk to us at our BOE meeting about the additional measures we can take. We have some money available to us through our current capital project and another funding stream that I believe must be used first and foremost to improve school security–before we use it to put an electronic device in every kid’s hands.

Let’s have that adult conversation about what we’re doing about school safety and security because enough IS enough.

Kimberly Moritz, Superintendent

National Student School Walk-Out

As you have likely seen by now, there is a national event this Wednesday, March 14, 2018, initiated and promoted by the students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, to call attention to school violence.

Because this is a student event, our MS/HS principals and I have discussed our possible role and response. We want to honor and respect what our students may choose to do Wednesday. In other words, we determined that we wouldn’t make it OUR event.  We made a conscious decision to allow this to be a true student event, if our students decide it’s something they want to do.  We cannot endorse or participate in a planned walk out during the school day, since doing so would be in violation of public education law.

What’s our role on Wednesday then? To respect the rights of all students, whether they choose to participate or not. The role of our staff during this time will be to help keep our students safe and supervised. Our administrative team is planning to be at the MS and the HS at 10:00 to support our students, if they choose to participate. We will be stationed throughout the buildings and we have Erie County Sheriff’s officers joining our SRO, Frank Simmeth, at our school buildings.  We will encourage students to demonstrate within our school buildings, especially given that it’s WNY and the weather is supposed to be bad.

We need to concentrate on what we’re doing about the problem of school violence and improving our school safety. You’ll recall my earlier post http://bit.ly/2CRpgA8 about school safety and a community conversation on 3/20 at our BOE meeting on the topic. I may not have all of the answers, but we plan to listen, learn, and collectively make good decisions about what we can do to improve school safety here in Springville. Please join us.

School Safety at Springville-Griffith Institute CSD

Following the recent violent attack on innocent lives at a school in Florida, I’ve heard from families, BOE members and employees who have written to me with concerns about school safety here. I’d like to share the work we’ve been doing on this topic over the past year and the changes we’re considering moving forward.

In early 2017 we contracted with Corporate Screening & Investigative Group to conduct a security and climate survey and risk assessment of the district. This was a thorough investigation conducted by Tony Olivo and his team in which he evaluated our school exterior and play areas, our school interiors and our staff and administrative practices.

What we learned from this assessment influenced many of the decisions we’ve made about our security practices. We’ve changed our safety drills from twelve fire drills per year, with one early evacuation drill, to practicing all of our emergency drills. While the topic of a school shooter makes everyone uncomfortable, we believe we must discuss, prepare and practice how to respond so that every member of our school family feels empowered to act responsibly in ways that can save lives.

The truth is that in the event of an emergency such as an active shooter, every person here has to be prepared to think quickly and to make the best possible decisions. Who can call a lock down in the event that they see something is wrong? Anyone. Who can call 911 in the event of an emergency? Anyone.

Please know that we also pay attention to each and every report  about anyone who may be making threats or expressing alarming ideas or thoughts on social media. “SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING” is an important mantra for our students, employees and families to remember. We need everyone acting as advocates for student safety. Are the concerns false sometimes? Sure, but better that we investigate concerns than ignore them. We also have a full staff of school counselors and social workers who work with students who are struggling–please tell an adult if something seems worrisome so that we can get help to those in need.

School safety is the responsibility of every member of our school community. From the security and risk assessment, we implemented the following.

  1. All doors are to be locked at all times. In the event of an active shooter entering one of our schools, a quick response is paramount to saving lives. Teachers cannot be fumbling for keys to lock doors. Instead the doors should be locked so they can be quickly closed.
  2. All district staff are expected to wear their SGI name badges at all times while on duty and to use them to enter buildings.
  3. We have improved morning entry procedures for Boys and Girls Club students so that our buildings aren’t wide open and unlocked prior to the start of school.
  4. To the extent possible, everyone should enter through one centralized arrival point.
  5. We added a door monitor at SES and we now require all visitors to show and leave ID while visiting our buildings. This is in an effort to verify that people are who they say they are and to be able to quickly identify who is in our buildings.
  6. We dedicated time for ALL STAFF to learn more from Tony Olivo and NYS Trooper Tom Kelly about SGI Situational Awareness and Security as part of our staff development days. We conducted follow up training for our door monitors. I believe this kind of training needs to be repeated annually.
  7. We have two district level leaders who have school safety as a primary responsibility and are therefore charged with the task of routinely evaluating our practices, keeping current on what we can do better and reminding everyone of our responsibilities.
  8. Our building level safety teams are empowered to implement procedures that make sense for their buildings. An example is when the Colden Elementary Safety Team identified that parent pick-up at the end of the day will be better contained and safer if moved from the cafeteria to the front of the school.

We have a School Resource Officer, Erie County Sheriff Frank Simmeth, who we share with North Collins, provided to us through funding from Senator Pat Gallivan. Senator Gallivan is meeting with us next week to further discuss law enforcement’s role in school security.

What else can we do? In our current capital project, the bids were favorable enough that we have some funding to spend on things that weren’t initially planned. We also have Smart Schools Bond money available. I have specified that school safety improvements are our #1 Priority for the use of these funds. Following are possibilities we are considering.

  1. Technology solutions that allow us to lock down all doors within a building immediately.
  2. Improved security cameras placed where law enforcement and our security audit indicate.
  3. Aegis Technology that helps deliver a safer school by working with our existing camera system to provide proactive real-time alerts that will protect staff and students.  Tony Olivo is joining us at our March 20 BOE meeting to discuss this technology with us.
  4. There is a film for the glass in our doors and windows that can be applied and would delay entry from an armed intruder.

We will be discussing school safety and security at our March 20 BOE meeting, 6:30 at Springville High School. We invite our employees, students and families to attend.

Will some of the outcomes of our safety improvements make things a bit more inconvenient? Perhaps. Will some visitors feel that the precautions aren’t necessary? Maybe. Is it worth it? Yes.

We want our families to feel welcome when they enter our buildings. We want you to feel a part of what we’re doing at SGI–please visit us! We just want to be smart and safe about it. When you come to my home, you’ll find the doors locked. When I see who you are and determine that I know you, that it’s safe to open my door to let you in, I’ll be warm and welcoming. Isn’t that how you are at home? That’s what we’re attempting to do here in our efforts to keep every child and employee safe at SGI.

And if all of these precautions are unnecessary? I’ll be very grateful.