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.

ryoung@timesreview.com

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.

jennifer@timesreview.com 

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.

 

jennifer@timesreview.com

 

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.

ADMINISTRATOR’S UNION PREZ SLAMS SCHOOL BOARD OVER STATEMENT

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.

5.5% STATE AID INCREASE FOR SWR

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.

psquire@timesreview.com

01/22/13 1:00pm
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River school superintendent Steven Cohen (left) and board vice president Richard Pluschau. The school board meets

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River school superintendent Steven Cohen (left) and board vice president Richard Pluschau. The school board meets tonight at 7 p.m.

The Shoreham-Wading River school board is expected to provide a security update at tonight’s meeting.

The discussion stems from the Jan. 10 special meeting in which residents, administrators and faculty members shared ideas on how to improve district security in the wake of last month’s Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Scroll down to view the complete agenda.

Shoreham-Wading River BOE meeting agenda, Jan. 22, 2013 by

01/11/13 4:50pm

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Parent and co-president of SWR SEPTA Mike Sanchez speaks at Thursday night’s meeting.

The question of whether to arm security guards at Shoreham-Wading River schools was the main topic of discussion at a special school board meeting Thursday night in the high school library.

Residents, administrators and faculty members were all called to the open forum to  share ideas on how to improve district security in the district in the wake of last month’s Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

The meeting, attended by nearly 50 residents and which lasted two hours, began with an update on security changes made in the district.

Superintendent Steven Cohen told those in attendance there are unarmed security guards in every school in the district who all have previous security or law enforcement experience and are certified by the state.

The district is in the process of hiring two more security guards, he added. Four of the six guards are full-time employees while the remaining two are part-timers.

Since the shooting, and immediate concerns that some parents raised at a school board meeting that followed, buzzer systems, security cameras and auto-locking doors have been installed at all district elementary schools, Mr. Cohen said. The middle school and high school doors automatically lock, but do not have buzzer systems or cameras yet, officials said. Those are in the process of being purchased and installed.

Door monitors are working at each school to check who comes in and out of the building, Mr. Cohen said.

The money for the security upgrades is coming out of reallocated funds from the district’s maintenance operating budget, said assistant superintendent of finance Glenn Arcuri.

Mr. Cohen said the district will look into installing security vestibules at local schools over the summer.

But while district residents praised the board for taking steps to improve safety at district schools, many had further concerns and suggestions for the board to look into.

Several parents expressed concern that the door monitors were not doing their jobs correctly, as some parents and friends claimed they were let recently into the school immediately without having their identification checked.

School board president William McGrath said the district would work on creating a uniform policy for all door guards to follow, but stressed that parents who see security issues should immediately tell the school principal so they can address the problem.

Beyond security measures, Mr. McGrath said if a parent or student notices something strange or unusual about the behavior of another individual, notify school officials.

“You walk into the school building, no one asks for your ID, say something,” he said. “The time for complacency has passed.”

Dawn Esser, a Shoreham-Wading River graduate and district mother, expressed concerned about unlocked doors and lax security at before- and after-care programs.

The superintendent said he knew of perceived holes in security and said officials were working on how to hire the additional four or five full-time security officers to staff the school before and after the regular school day.

“We have not worked out with the board how many security guards we should be hiring right now,” Mr.. Cohen said, “and that’s one of the details that has to be worked out.”

Chris Zukowski, a district resident and wife of school board member John Zukowski, said the limitations of the state’s tax levy cap will make it difficult for school officials to spend significant money on security, even though many residents have stated they would support the changes.

But the most discussed topic at the meeting was the school’s security guards and whether or not they should be armed. Many parents said they agreed with suggestions made by the National Rifle Association that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

“It may offend people, but it’s the only thing that’s going to stop an armed intruder,” said Wading River resident Nikko Lavey. Mr. Lavey said the board should not be concerned with cost, since the need is so essential.

The discussion came just hours after news reports that a student at a California high school shot another student with a shotgun. The student was reportedly taken into custody after a “campus supervisor” convinced the teenager to put his gun down.

Other parents agreed with Mr. Lavey that armed security, whether those are district employees, volunteers or on-duty police officers, are the answer.

“With every bad guy, [you] need a good guy with a gun,” said Toni Morell, a Wading River parent who pushed for having police patrol the district’s campuses. “I’m sorry, but I feel as though having a security guard there would be wonderful, but in all truthfulness unless there is someone armed there I still do not feel safe.”

Other parents said they would oppose putting armed guards in district schools, as did Emma Stoll, a Shoreham-Wading River High School senior and non-voting member of the school board.

She would feel less safe with an armed security guard in the school, she said.

“I know some parents are saying that they would feel more safe, but they’re not the ones in the school.” Ms. Stoll said. “I don’t think that bringing more guns into the school is going to make me more safe.”

Mike Sanchez, a co-president of the SWR Special Education Parent Teacher Association and police officer, said he would happy to speak to students about gun safety to calm their fears of having armed officers in the school.

Communication between parents, students and teachers about safety will be the key to protecting SWR schools, Mr. Sanchez said.

Board members agreed the issue of armed security will need to be addressed.

The topic of armed security or police would likely be brought up at another security open forum when government and police representatives could attend, officials said.

But some issues, such as hiring more town or county police officers to patrol the area, are beyond what the school board can do, Mr. McGrath said, urging residents to come together and speak out.

“The things that are beyond the scope of what we can do is when we all as citizens of our town, our county, and our state need to let others know that it has to go beyond just our problem,” he said.

psquire@timesreview.com