03/12/15 8:00am
03/12/2015 8:00 AM
Security director James Gersham discusses procedures with two members of his staff Marilyn Ross (left) and Eddie Johnson Monday afternoon. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Security director James Gersham discusses procedures with two members of his staff Marilyn Ross (left) and Eddie Johnson Monday afternoon. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

A video surveillance system that police and fire departments can view in real time during emergencies. Security cameras on buses. An identification scanner checking for convicted sex offenders.

These are just some of the latest security features operating in the Riverhead school district and spearheaded by a security director who was hired just last year.

And even more improvements are on the way. (more…)

09/25/13 3:00pm
09/25/2013 3:00 PM
RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Homeland Systems president Chris Downie, front, discusses his company’s emergency alert system at Tuesday’s Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting while his business partner, Phil Tumminio, looks on.

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Homeland Systems president Chris Downie, front, discusses his company’s emergency alert system at Tuesday’s Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting while his business partner, Phil Tumminio, looks on.

As school district officials across the entire country consider ways to make their classrooms safer less than a year after a school shooting in Connecticut, the Shoreham-Wading River Board of Education heard a presentation Tuesday night about an emergency alert system it’s integrating that will enable designated school personnel to communicate with first responders in the event of a security breach.

The software was discussed at Tuesday’s school board meeting by Homeland Systems president Chris Downie. S.A.F.E.R. Direct, the name of the program, is smartphone-based and can send text message and email alerts to first responders and school personnel depicting where a security breach has been made. Alerts can be sent via smart phone, tablet or computer.

“Our system is a virtual panic button,” said Phil Tumminio, a district resident and the treasurer and marketing manager of Homeland Systems, based out of Delaware. He said he and Mr. Downie have been working with the district since May and are in the midst of negotiating a contract. “It’s not stationary. Everyone on the system with a smart phone can send an instant emergency alert direct to first responders from any location in the school.”

This is the latest in a series of security measures the district has implemented or is considering.

In January – less than six weeks after the deadly shooting in Newtown, Conn. left 26 innocent victims dead – the district hired two security guards. A district parent had raised concerns during an open forum on security in the district, Superintendent Steven Cohen said at the time. The middle and high school’s entrances have also been upgraded with more security measures.

In explaining in more depth the ‘virtual panic button’ to the board of education Tuesday night, Mr. Tumminio said one of the main problems with emergency cell phone calls is poor cell tower coverage in the area. “Hard-wired calls from alert stations can work, but in times of crisis it might be impossible to get to a hard-wired phone to send an alert,” he said.

The S.A.F.E.R. (School, Ambulance, Fire Department, Emergency, Response) Direct program would not be reliant on cell coverage, but would rather run through the a wireless Internet network.

Glen Arcuri, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said S.A.F.E.R. Direct is already partially installed at Shoreham-Wading River High School. He hopes to see the installation process completed there by mid-November.

Superintendent Steven Cohen said on Wednesday that the board had instructed him to move forward with installing the program.

“Much planning will be needed, however, before the system is operational,” he said in an email.

The cost to install the program, Mr. Arcuri said, is typically $7,000 per school, or a total of $35,000 for the district. The total cost is offset by a $20,000 price reduction Mr. Tumminio and Mr. Downie said they’re willing to contribute, bringing the total installation cost down to $15,000. Once installation is completed, the district would have to pay $18,000 annually in maintenance fees – $300 per school, per month – Mr. Arcuri said.

Board member John Zucowski said during Tuesday’s meeting he supports installing an emergency alert system throughout the school district.

“What first responders really need during an emergency is information, so I think it’s worth pushing forward,” he said.

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05/02/13 6:00am
05/02/2013 6:00 AM
Security in Riverhead schools

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead schools head of security Donald Henderson watching security monitors.

To the Editor:

I would like to congratulate Superintendent Nancy Carney and the Riverhead school board on their decision to implement new, district-wide security upgrades.

Moreover, the board is to be applauded for not burdening Riverhead taxpayers with an additional tax levy to achieve this goal.

As parents we all want our children to go to school in a safe and secure environment. Unfortunately, the Sandy Hook, Conn., tragedy has reminded us of the need for such school security measures.

I note, to that end, Donald Henderson, the Riverhead district’s chief of security, has long advocated for these upgraded security measures, and for having the necessary security guards go respond to any emergency threats the cameras may uncover.

This is a responsible act to safeguard our precious children.

Marlando Williams, Baiting Hollow

To read more letters to the editor, pick of copy of this week’s News-Review on newsstands or click on the E-Paper.

01/26/13 7:59am
SWR District, School Board, School Security

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Emma Stoll, 17, of Wading River, sitting next to Robert Rose at a Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting.

She couldn’t stay quiet any longer.

Emma Stoll, 17, had attended only a handful of school board meetings since she was sworn-in Nov. 20 as a student rep and nonvoting member of the Shoreham-Wading River Board of Education. It didn’t take long for her to make her presence felt.

Almost paralyzed by nerves, this school athlete, ballerina and honors student from Wading River knew she had to stand up for her beliefs in the face of parents demanding school security guards be armed with guns about a month after the Newtown school shooting.

“I remember it vividly,” Emma recalled of that special board meeting on Jan. 10. “I was shaking a bit.”

“I know some parents are saying that they would feel more safe, but they’re not the ones in the school,” she said at the meeting, according to a News-Review report. “I don’t think that bringing more guns into the school is going to make me more safe.”

“And I would say it again,” Emma said in an interview Friday.

The senior believes her experience in extra-curricular activities prompted her to seek a seat on the school board, as well as have the courage to speak up in a crowd.

“I think it’s important that students get involved and have their say,” she said. “It’s easier when you have a seat at the table.”

Emma, who attended her last meeting Tuesday, is involved with varsity track, varsity tennis, yearbook club, the environmentalist group “Global Awareness,” the student art and literary magazine “Cymbals,” the math club “Mathletics,” and the National Honors Society.

She’s applied to 18 colleges and is hoping to get accepted into Cornell University because of its architecture program.

Q: Why did you decide to join the Board of Education?

A: [High School principal Dan Holtzman] said any student that is interested should apply. After taking an AP government and politics course, I decided I wanted to get to know the community better and thought [serving on the school board] would be the perfect opportunity. Three students applied. The district decided to split the term so that each student could have a chance.

Q: What are some of the challenges the district faces?

A: One thing I’ve wanted to address is the condition of the tennis courts. They are in terrible condition. They are deteriorating and the fences are rusty. Fixing them will not only be beneficial to students, but to the community as well, because many residents use the courts. Another big issue is recycling.

The school should have a better recycling program and I believe being on the board will help me achieve that goal. I think when you’re up there and you have the microphone, people listen to you.

Q: Why is having a student representative on the school board important? 

Do you have any advice for the incoming student reps?

A: Although I don’t have a vote, I have the opportunity to express ideas of a younger generation. I have the inside scoop and I believe the other board members appreciate that type of input … The next students should be aware of the school security issue. We’ve had intense meetings since the [Newtown shootings]. I had time to get used to the school board meetings before that. The next student will have to jump right into it.

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01/25/13 8:00am
01/25/2013 8:00 AM
COURTESY PHOTO | Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker at Wednesday's school safety seminar in Brentwood.

COURTESY PHOTO | Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker at Wednesday’s school safety seminar in Brentwood.

A Suffolk County lawmaker announced Wednesday details about a new study to determine the feasibility of an emergency notification system to link schools directly with police.

During the Suffolk County Police Department’s school safety seminar in Brentwood, county Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said recommendations to streamline communication between school districts and local law enforcement agencies will be included in the study. In addition, the report will look into potential costs and how it could be paid.

“If emergency notification systems are available to banks, hospitals and businesses, why wouldn’t we have the same system in place to protect our children?” Ms. Anker said in a press release. “A direct line of communication is critical. Seconds can save lives.”

The bill is currently being reviewed by the county’s education committee, which Ms. Anker serves as chairwoman.

The police department’s seminar comes about a month after the Newtown school shooting. Law enforcement officials offered guidance to school administrators at the seminar and discussed its emergency response plan in the event of a school shooting.

All public and private schools, colleges and universities located within the Suffolk County Police Department’s jurisdiction were invited to attend, officials said.

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01/23/13 8:00am

JOHN GRIFFIN FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River High School.

Two security guards were hired at the Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting Tuesday night to provide enough guards to staff all district schools during early morning and after school hours.

Superintendent Steven Cohen said the two new guards were hired as a direct result of a concern raised by a SWR parent at a recent open forum on security in the district. A head security guard was also chosen at the meeting to review the district’s security policies and improve them.

“We continue to harden our buildings,” Mr. Cohen said.

The middle school’s entrance has been upgraded with more security measures and the high school’s entrance is being worked on now, he said. The district is moving forward with plans to install vestibules at schools across the district this summer and will also install panic buttons in all schools, he said.

The board is also exploring the use of a guardhouse on district property, Mr. Cohen said.

A police officer is working on a security assessment of the district, and the schools’ security team will attend a security conference held by Suffolk County police and Suffolk County Supervisor Steve Bellone on Wednesday, Mr. Cohen said.

The state education department has stated they will open up funding for security improvements on July 1, Mr. Cohen said. The district, if it moved forward with major upgrades before the summer, would then miss out on state aid.

School officials said they believe the state is trying to get districts to think carefully before addressing security needs.

District officials also said the district-wide camera project approved by voters several years ago was packed with the new track and safety proposition passed last year, and is awaiting state approval.

That camera system was designed long before the Sandy Hook shootings that inspired this latest round of security overhauls, said assistant superintendent of finance Glenn Arcuri.

“I just don’t want people to assume I could install cameras tomorrow,” he said.


The president of the district’s administrators association criticized the school board at Tuesday night’s meeting, saying they “pressured” the union into accepting a state-mandated performance review plan without negotiating by making public statements blaming them for potentially lost state aid.

Earlier this month, board president William McGrath said the district may lose nearly half a million in state aid because Steven Donohue, the president of the union, had not signed off on the performance review plan, known as an APPR.

Mr. McGrath said at the time that the union refused to negotiate with the board.

“These statements could not be farther from the truth,” said Mr. Donohue during public comments at Tuesday night’s meeting. “The board tried to make the public believe that we would not sign off on the APPR because it was an issue of money. This is not an issue of money, rather it has always been an issue of treating your administrators and employees with respect and professionalism.”

Mr. Donohue said that while teachers negotiated for about a year and a half on their APPR, the administrators were presented with the district’s plan on Nov. 27. The union filed a complain with the New York State Public Employees Relations Board claiming the district could not “unilaterally” impose an APPR plan without their agreement.

Mr. Donohue said he sent letters to the board offering to work out the APPR plan as well as the union’s contract, which expired in 2011.

Those calls, he said, were never returned.

“The message that has been sent by this board has been received loud and clear by this association,” Mr. Donohue said. “You do not value your administrators and the work we do each day within our schools.”

No board members responded to Mr. Donohue’s allegations at the meeting.

Mr. McGrath declined to comment, saying he needed to speak to his colleagues on the board first.


Governor Andrew Cuomo has included in his tentative $142.6 billion spending plan released Tuesday a 5.5 percent increase in total state aid for the Shoreham-Wading River school district over this year.

According to the budget, the district would receive about $8,735,000 in state aid (see breakdown) for the 2013-14 school year, compared to the current school year’s $8,279,000.

Mr. Cohen said he looked at an overview of Mr. Cuomo’s budget but didn’t get a chance to read it full. He said he was glad to see SWR get more aid that the district was expecting and said the extra money would be added into budget discussions for the 2013-14 school year.

“That [aid] is money that we had not assumed, so that’s got to be factored into the revenue side [of the budget],” he said.

The governor’s budget has now been sent to the state Legislature.

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