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Student mental health, security addressed at SWR board meeting

Superintendent Gerard Poole addressed national school safety concerns at the Shoreham-Wading River Board of Education meeting Tuesday. 

The presentation comes roughly two weeks after an airsoft gun was found in a student’s backpack at Riverhead Middle School, only about 10 miles from Wading River Elementary School. 

“The No. 1 priority in this school district,” Mr. Poole said, “is the safety and security of our students and staff. It is always an agenda item on administrative meetings, and it’s something we review on an ongoing basis.”

The presentation addressed planning and preparation for emergency situations, infrastructure changes, completed and future security projects, monitoring student health and further student support. 

At a March board meeting earlier this year, Mr. Poole presented safety procedures regarding the Emergency Response Plan, a confidential document created with security teams and consultants, police and fire officials, and later reviewed by the state. Mr. Poole said the districtwide safety plans include 14 to 15 emergency scenarios. 

“I’m really proud of the security we have right now; we have a lot of great things in place,” he said. “We have a strong foundation for safety.” 

The district has invested approximately $2 million on hardware and infrastructure improvements in the past three years — including new steel poles to prevent vehicles from driving on elementary school sidewalks, new burglar alarm systems, new fire alarm systems, over 40 defibrillator kits across the district, building entry security, and enhanced video monitoring. 

One way to prioritize safety, Mr. Poole said, is being aware of the students’ mental health status, something staff and faculty are working on throughout the year. 

“We have a rich system for reviewing students that may need additional support and may be in danger of hurting themselves or others,” Mr. Poole said. “Each building has a team of professionals that carefully consider those students when they come to their attention — whether it’s through a parent or a peer, or reported to us.”

Trustee Katie Andersen said she’s grateful for the district’s continued updates to security and mental health in response to recent shootings, including the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that resulted in the deaths of 17 students and staff. However, she’s concerned with how the district is establishing connections between high school students and the new psychologists. 

“The thoughtfulness and the strategy that went into the immediate response and long-term responses is something I feel comfortable with,” she said. “But at the high school level, what can we do to make our social workers and our psychologists more visible to eliminate stigma?”

Mr. Poole said the addition of a new school psychologist to the high school will enhance mental health services. Normalizing mental health, he said, is crucial, and the district will look into forming bonds between students and psychologists.

“There should not be a stigma for students to speak with psychologists,” Mr. Poole said. “We need to improve the culture to normalize it.”

Prior to the board meeting, the district unveiled a plaque honoring new additions to Wading River Elementary School.

The changes were part of the district’s 2015 Renewal Project, according to Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations. The $48.5 million bond project is intended to improve the instructional spaces in the district.

Mr. Arcuri said this project was priced in combination with the Miller Avenue Elementary School renovations which unveiled last month. Both projects totaled $23 million.

In addition to regularly updated material, like fire alarms, perimeter fencing, and new shingle roofs, Mr. Arcuri said, the district installed LEDs and new carpets in the library. Several third, fourth and fifth grade classrooms throughout the building were renovated, as was the cafeteria and gymnasium. The renovations also added a kitchen space.

“We wanted to make it welcoming for students and parents alike,” principal Louis Parrinello said prior to unveiling the plaque.

Most of the work on the bond project began in June 2017.

“It was really incredible walking around today and seeing the results of the bond project,” Mr. Poole said. “We owe a big thank you to the community for their foresight and care for the students and children here to have this bright, vibrant learning space.”

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Photo caption: Superintendent Gerard Poole talked about school safety at Tuesday’s meeting. (Kate Nalepinski photo)