School Districts Hold Line On Student Security Policies
By JEANNE WHITNEY
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times
“Districts are in a heightened state of awareness,” according to John Patella, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, “it can happen anywhere.”
In the past year, student shooting deaths in Arkansas, Mississippi and Kentucky schools focused the attention of the nation’s educators on the very real threat of violence, particularly at the middle school level.
As a result, many public school districts – including Scotch PlainsFanwood, Westfield and Mountainside — will have policies in place at the start of the new school year, which deal specifically with weapons and other dangerous instruments.
“I think districts are looking at (their weapons and safety codes) closely, and making sure they have the strongest policy as possible,” stated Mr. Patella, who represents member school boards.
Although none of the three local districts can recall any history of gunrelated incidents, “We can’t rule it out,” according to Westfield’s Superintendent of Schools Dr. William J. Foley.
Mountainside’s Chief School Administrator, Dr. Gerard Schaller, concurred, saying, “In light of the national incidents, we just want to be prepared.”
State legislation mandates policy on “the unlawful possession, distribution, and disposition of firearms and other deadly weapons.”
Westfield schools’ policy, in accordance with the 1995 Federal “Zero Tolerance for Guns Act,” calls for a minimum one-year expulsion for any student found bringing a gun into a school or to related events. The criminal or juvenile justice system is also called into force, under the act.
Westfield’s most recent weapons policy was adopted in June of last year, and covers guns, knives, stun guns, mace, tear gas, brass knuckles, sharp rings and jewelry, blackjacks and martial arts weapons.
However, Dr. Foley pointed out, “There has been no increase in violence” in the district. “We’re fortunate that our students have well-parented families,” he added.
The Scotch Plains-Fanwood district revised its code this summer on discipline, suspension and expulsion of students, according to School Board President August A. Ruggiero. An offense such as “possession of dangerous instruments or volatile explosive substances” is met with either suspension or expulsion or both, under the policy.
A further tightening up of the policy added a passage about threats: “Any pupil who is guilty of...physical assault or threat of physical harm upon another pupil, a teacher, or any school employee, with or without a firearm or other weapon...shall be liable to punishment.”
In both the Westfield and Scotch Plains-Fanwood districts, the superin
tendents and school boards have final say on a student’s expulsion, even though a school principal is responsible for immediate enforcement of the safety policy. Any such decision may be appealed to the state Commissioner of Education within 90 days.
Mountainside’s Dr. Schaller said the district’s weapons policy is in draft form but should be ready for approval by September. No details were released.
Importantly, school districts are turning increasingly to what they hope will be preventative measures to deter student violence.
Marie Koch, a Student Assistance Counselor (SAC) in the Westfield intermediate schools, stressed the important role communication plays.
“It’s important to have open lines of communication between students and provide a safe place to talk, get information and get help,” she said.
A peer leadership program, where students learn problem-solving skills, creates an “opportunity for kids to help kids,” she said. “Students are not counselors,” she emphasized.
“Peer-to-peer mentoring has shown a definite change in attitudes toward violent solutions to problems, and has improved the students’ ability to think about dangerous risk-taking behaviors,” she said.
Under the statewide model program, students are encouraged to realize that they cannot solve every problem alone, and to reach out for help. Ms. Koch said she believed that, in the nationally-publicized school shooting incidents, there were prior signs of trouble which, if recognized in time, could have averted the turn of events.
“In every case, someone knew something beforehand,” she said, that could have prevented the tragedy.
“But we like to believe that we have enough safeguards in place to provide avenues for communication and help before anything could arise,” Ms. Koch commented about the Westfield schools. Westfield schools also participate in a drug use prevention program, D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), in cooperation with local police.
The Scotch Plains-Fanwood school district keeps an independent counseling group on call to assist in conflict resolution, among other concerns. The district has considered peer mediation from time to time.
Although many theories abound over the incidence of youth violence, Ms. Koch speculated that greater exposure at a younger age – particularly through the electronic media – has had a negative impact.
On the other hand, she said she sees a trend toward religion in students.
Dr. Foley confirmed that, “We are sensitive to, and more closely monitor, what (students) write and say. Prevention is key.”
Strategic Planning Committee Recommends School Bond Editor’s Note: The following is the last of a seven-part series outlining the initiatives of the committees which worked on the Strategic Plan for the Westfield Public Schools District.
* * * * * WESTFIELD – The Strategic Action Plan committee members who researched school building resources and requirements unanimously recommended that a bond referendum be presented to the citizens of Westfield to properly provide for a growing student population.
Members of the committee – which was comprised of parents, teachers, board members, and school administrators – spent months reviewing current enrollments, projected enrollments, facilities plans, and Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.
“We split into three subcommittees,” explained committee Chairwoman Darielle Walsh. “A complete needs assessment was developed. In the end, it was apparent to all of us that our schools will not be able to provide adequate classroom and instructional space for Westfield’s growing enrollment,” she added.
Parent-Teacher Council President Denise Ricci, who served on the Action Plan Committee and has three children attending the Westfield public schools, commented, “The district is in a very good position to present a bond because our debt service is about to end.
“A bond would have minimal tax consequences and maximum benefits to provide classroom space for our children. This is a solution that we need,” she stated.
The entire report submitted by the Action Plan Committee was presented to the Board of Education in
June. Superintendent of Schools Dr. William J. Foley has reacted to the bond referendum recommendation by inviting citizens to become part of a special advisory committee to assist in reviewing potential building and technology projects.
Anyone interested in volunteering on the Citizens Advisory Committee is asked to call the superintendent’s office at (908) 789-4420 by Friday, September 4, for an application.
Additional recommendations made by the Action Plan Committee include:
• Update enrollment surveys annually.
• Assess actual physical needs of programs based on current available space.
• Develop a phase-in plan for creating optimal kindergarten through grade 12 classroom space.
• Analyze and recommend facility requirements for: classroom size, art and music rooms, physical education/large group (assembly), library, storage space, small group instruction, and health and guidance.
• Ensure that all programs will be ADA accessible.
• Make necessary changes in school buildings to become ADA accessible.
The committee members who proposed the recommendations for the district’s strategic plan include: Stewart Carey, Anthony Cerami, Sue Dodge, Robert Eyre, Leslie FoltzMorrison, John Fong, Gary Fox, Chic Hansen, Marcia Kanter, Kathleen Kelly, Linda King, Carrie Mumford, Donna Perch, Annmarie Puleio, Robert Rader, Denise Ricci, Doreen Rivell, James Rodino, Kenneth Shulack, Trudy Silverman, Darielle Walsh and Steve Zatko.
New Staff, Repairs Greet Mountainside Students By KIMBERLY A. BROADWELL
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times
Many improvements have been made to Deerfield School in Mountainside just in time for a back-to-school kick off. On Wednesday, September 2, the first day of school, students will see a newlyrefurbished gymnasium floor, a newly-renovated industrial arts classroom, and new science lab tritables. In addition, the school’s roof has been replaced.
“I am happy to report that we recently had a rain storm and there were no leaks,” stated Mountainside’s Chief School Administrator, Dr. Gerard A. Schaller.
Dr. Schaller reported that as of Tuesday, class and teacher assignments had been sent home to all students. He also revealed that a new Personnel-Teacher Handbook and Parent-Student Handbooks were developed over the summer and are ready for the new school year.
New teachers at Deerfield School include Arthur Vespignani for vocal and instrumental music, Diane Webb to teach grades 6 to 8 mathematics, Megan Schwingel for first grade, Susan Miller as a part-time computer education teacher, and Cynthianne Meile as a part-time Learning Disability Consultant.
There have also been many improvements to Governor Livingston High School which will benefit high school students in the borough.
According to Thomas Long, Administrative Assistant in the Superintendent’s Office for Berkeley Heights Public Schools, there are four new teachers at the high school and a new Sign Language I interpreter for hearing-impaired students.
Lisa Patete has been hired as a science teacher, John Crane will teach English, Patricia Nicholas is a teacher for the hearing impaired, and Yolanda Pozo will teach English as a Second Language. The sign language interpreter will be Lisa DeMarco.
Physical changes to the high school include both gymnasiums being completely repainted, with new ceiling lights installed there as well. Other renovations include a
new fire alarm system, restriping of the parking lot, and new lights and drop ceilings in hallways.
Mr. Long also noted that there is a new Advanced Placement course in economics, and a vocal music class has also been added.
According to Governor Livingston High School Principal Benjamin Jones, three new boys’ soccer coaches have also been hired. James Pickel will serve the high school as Head Coach, and the two assistants include Matthew Lynch and Godfried Baning.
Lastly, a new addition to the district staff is George Kallaur as the Board of Education Secretary and Business Administrator. Mr. Kallaur started with the borough in July.
Leonard Baccaro, the borough’s former Superintendent and Board Secretary, retired last June. He had served the borough for 12 years.
Fall Semester to Begin At Adult High School
SCOTCH PLAINS — The Union County Vocational-Technical Adult High School will begin its fall semester on Tuesday, September 8, at its Raritan Road campus in Scotch Plains.
According to Director John Crowley, the purpose of the adult high school is to encourage those who have dropped out of high school to re-enter and pursue a diploma in a setting designed for adults.
Past earned credit is awarded for both academic achievement and life experience, and the curriculum is geared to students’ specific needs.
The school operates year round, with three regular semesters and a summer intersession. Classes are held Mondays through Thursdays from 3 to 6:30 p.m.
The Union County VocationalTechnical Schools provide training and job readiness skills for adults, and the program is fully endorsed by the State of New Jersey, Mr. Crowley confirmed.
Information on applying may be obtained by calling John Crowley at (908) 889-2904.