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BOE Talks Security, Sustainability

BOE security and sustainability Soon after yet another school shooting tragedy, the Scarsdale Board of Education opened this week’s meeting with an all too familiar expression of condolence to members of the Santa Fe High School community in Texas.

Scarsdale School Superintendent Thomas Hagerman stated, “There are no words that I can say that will allay the grave concerns that parents and children feel around their vulnerability to violence in today’s world. That does not mean that we accept it as an inevitability, however.” He continued, “We have, and continue to, encourage our students, staff and parents to have their voices heard on this issue to ensure that our schools, of all places, are, indeed, safe spaces for all... Here at home, we’ve redoubled our efforts and maintained a strong focus on health and safety.”

Fittingly, the meeting, which provided a detailed update on the district’s transition plan, also included a good deal of discussion about school safety and security. While parents can appreciate the administration’s reports on finance and budget, communications, facilities, curriculum, staffing and related matters, many are distracted by the rash of violent incidents in our nation’s schools.

Shortly after his update on 2014 bond project status and planning for 2018 bond projects, Scarsdale Assistant Superintendent for Business and Facilities Stuart Mattey addressed the district’s efforts to enhance safety in and around its buildings. He began by saying, “Security vestibules (were) a big part of the security planning that was part of the bond, along with a more robust security camera system, and really tying in with some of the different opportunities for improvement that were identified by our security consultants when they came on board.” He continued, “Security vestibules are a best practice… for many school districts, so we’re instituting that, but also (entry) procedures will change as well… putting those in place (provides) another layer of making sure that the people who are coming into the building(s) are the people you want to come in.”

Mattey also mentioned the district’s recent security panel discussion that included district and law enforcement representatives. The event, which was very well attended, provided Mattey’s team with ideas about safety and security from a variety of viewpoints, particularly parents’ ideas, and set the table for future collaboration. “Those conversations have always been there, and when tragedies occur, they become more robust and focused. I do feel good, however, about the processes we’ve put in place.“

He then went on to discuss improvements in the district’s approach to security, stating, “Having Altaris on board, working with our building teams, having them go through training, and making them, perhaps, more aware of best practices and things they should be putting in place, has been a really big boost to all of our buildings, and we’ve been hearing really positive feedback.”

Mattey also reiterated the importance of hiring a security liaison or head of security, made possible for next year through a late budget allocation. “With a 100 percent focus on security, (the liaison) will make sure all our buildings and district level teams are working together… and keep us focused on security instead of getting diverted by (issues such as) construction and budget. This person will be the key go-to person on a day-to-day basis if (our staff) needs assistance.” Hagerman followed by saying, “This is somebody we want out and about, and interacting and visible.” In addition,

Mattey also mentioned the role of the Scarsdale District-Level Emergency Response Team (DERT) as a forum to review district level crisis-response and how to address security issues going forward. Going forward, DERT will be critical component in ensuring a thoughtful, collaborative process in longer-term security planning and decision making. “This is new… items have arisen and been handled as they made sense, without thoughtful planning and review.”

In the meeting’s public comment sessions, attendees made statements for and against the more significant step of placing armed security officers at our schools. Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez (Fox Meadow Road) said, “Many of us would like to put armed guards all around our prized loved ones, our children… Do we want to fill them with fear when they are at an age where we want them to find their passions and talents… Armed guards did not save 10 people in Sante Fe…” She continued, “We cannot protect our children 100 percent from all exposure to adversity. We should first tackle those first risks that have a high probability of manifesting themselves. I thank the Scarsdale administration and board of education for lending us your ear. My fellow Scarsdale friends and neighbors, I urge all of us not to succumb to fear… I have faith that we are so incredibly lucky in Scarsdale to have the intellectual and financial resources to devise efficient and economically prudent ways to improve safety in and around our schools. I have faith that we, as a community, will not come to the conclusion that we need to imprison our children. And, I have faith that we will continue to pressure legislators for sensible gun control laws and additional resources for mental health problems. “

Steve Pass (Shawnee Road) later asked school administrators for related cost estimates, and pros and cons of hiring and training armed security guards at each of the district’s buildings. “Armed school resource officers (SROs) will obviously not solve all our safety issues. But they could be just one component of many, including a improved counseling program, an improved social curriculum and building enhancements that should be considered. While there does not appear to be any research showing the effectiveness or ineffectiveness SROs have in preventing crime or more serious incidents, intuitively, I think having an armed, specially trained officer on the premises if something were to happen is better than not having one.“ He went on, “Would it, definitively, be the most efficient use of funds? We could never know… School resource officers are not (just) armed guards standing at school entrances. These men and women receive training in counseling and other skills that help them be effective in a school setting. Part of the SRO’s job is to build relationships with students and faculty… I realize this is a very controversial topic, but the community needs more information to have the discussion.”

In responding to the idea of making armed guards part of the district’s security plan, Scarsdale School Board President Bill Natbony said, “That issue is part of our ongoing discussion, among many other options, with regard to security.”

Significant Strides in Sustainability

The meeting also featured a presentation on another topic of significant interest, the district’s sustainability planning and programs, and achievements to date. Fox Meadow Elementary School Principal Duncan Wilson began the presentation by discussing the history of Scarsdale’s sustainability program, which began 10 years ago, when the Environment Protection Agency provided grants to organizations focused on energy conservation and reduced emissions.

In referencing the district’s official sustainability resolution from June 2007, Wilson explained the initial focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent below the district’s 1990-91 emissions level by the year 2020. “The truth is it’s a much harder target to understand… people were trying to peg targets based on emissions numbers.” He went on, “One reason that it’s complicated is the (district) isn’t a car… it’s more complex to measure. The more important part is… the ongoing metrics of energy use, our fuel consumption and other items so we have a much better sense of what our environmental footprint is.”

Today, as Wilson explained, the district’s sustainability efforts are interdisciplinary, involving facilities, curriculum and professional development, and community behavior. “It’s not just that global warming is taught in the classroom. It’s the behaviors in the lunch room, it’s also in facilities (management). We’re doing our best work when everything surrounding a student’s life at school is having them think in a certain way.”

Scarsdale Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources and Leadership Development Drew Patrick then discussed efforts to define sustainability objectives and set priorities, notably through the district’s sustainability committee. In all its work, the committee is guided by the question of what a Scarsdale student needs to know, understand, be able to do, and value at the elementary, middle and high school levels, in order to create a sustainable future. “That became the center point of our conversion and generated a set of expectations, hopes and dreams for each of these areas… it has become a living, guiding (statement) for how we think about this,” said Patrick.

Specifically, the committee has developed a three-part model to illustrate its view of sustainability, which involves students being connected to guiding principles that shape short-term goals in key areas. According to Patrick, “Sustainability is just a bunch of key ideas, deep ideas, that cut across all sorts of different facets of learning, of life, of organizations and of communities. “ From this, the sustainability committee is focusing on four major areas -- student engagement projects, curriculum/professional development, facilities and community involvement.

Wilson chose to discuss the community component first, outlining efforts to promote zero waste throughout the district and in Scarsdale as a whole. “In the sustainability world, the three Rs are not reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmatic; they are reduce, reuse, recycle. Zero-waste is a more ambitious version of that. It… strives to reduce the amount of waste entering the waste stream that could otherwise be directed toward recycling, composting or reuse,” he said. To this end, the committee is working with school PTAs and the district office on a variety of efforts, such as expanding cafeteria recycling and composting, and considering how all school events can eventually become zero-waste events. Although different schools are at different points in their sustainability programs, the concept has impacted events district-wide.

Moving forward, the plan is to make all schools zero-waste and enlist students to assist in these efforts by getting involved in projects like reducing bottled water use, and promoting battery recycling. “My generation got our parents to wear seatbelts and stop smoking; this generation is going to be taking on these zero-waste challenges,” promised Wilson.

With regard to facilities, the committee is working to ensure that sustainability is an important part of the facility and operations planning and decision making processes. Patrick stated that the district should consider that “all aspects of internal operations and school environments should maximize energy and resource efficiency; reduce, reuse and recycle materials; foster clean air and excellent water quality; minimize the impact of land use changes; and prevent pollution.”

He continued, “This doesn’t always mean that we always act with sustainability as the number one consideration, that just not going to be realistic, but that it’s embedded in the process, to have, at least, thought about it and reported on it.”

Patrick noted that sustainability efforts must be considered in the context of what is best from educational, environmental and economic points of view. Is the project consistent with sustainability goals? Does it assist students in sustainability activities? Does it promote decreases in energy consumption? Does it improve air, water and/or soil quality? Are we assessing not only financial return over time, but the environmental and human health impacts of an investment? Are we weighing financial considerations along with educational and environmental goals?

In concluding their presentation, Wilson and Patrick screened a short film that illustrated varying approaches to sustainability programming in Scarsdale’s elementary, middle and high schools. It provided a brief snapshot of hands-on student activities, based on level of understanding and course of study. The video may be viewed via the district website here.

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