Parents crowd Putnam Board of Ed. meeting

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Fri., Dec. 21, 2012
In a poignant ceremony, the BOE awarded Kalynn Dombkowski, Madison Thomas and several other students Pride of Putnam awards. Photos by D. Coffey.
In a poignant ceremony, the BOE awarded Kalynn Dombkowski, Madison Thomas and several other students Pride of Putnam awards. Photos by D. Coffey.

A discussion of district security was the third item on the agenda at the Putnam Board of Education meeting on Dec. 18, but it was uppermost in the minds of most of the parents in attendance. The large gathering filled the media room at Putnam Middle School.
Chair Michael Merrill said school security was an enormously complex issue.

“There are prudent measures we should make,” Merrill said, “but it's clear from all the research that there is a great deal of harm you can do by doing the wrong things.” He cautioned parents against knee-jerk reactions to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. “The best proactive response is engagement - engagement with students by teachers and families,” he added.

Superintendent William Hull assured parents that the safety plans in place in Putnam were good ones. “We are all on the same page. The safety of our kids is the utmost importance,” he said. He reiterated the immediate steps that had been taken since the Newtown shootings. Faculty and staff had been given guidelines from the National Association of School Psychologists to help kids deal with the tragedy. Resources were posted on the Putnam school website including information for parents on how to talk with their children about the shootings. Bus drivers will meet to review safety protocols. In January, the town will do a full lock-down drill. Notes will be sent home to parents and guardians beforehand.

Putnam Police Chief Rick Hayes assured the audience that an audit of building security would be done on Dec. 20 and that reviews of lock-down procedures would be ongoing. “We have a good plan in place,” he said. “We practice it and review it and tweak it.” Putnam officers have gone through active shooter training, he said, and some are certified trainers. “I take the trust you put in me and the department, the board and the superintendent seriously,” he said.

On a more personal note, he shared the fact that he was friends with Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe. The two men had spent time together the day before the massacre at Sandy Hook. The Newtown Police Department is about the same size as Putnam's, said Hayes. “We have a lot in common. We realize that Putnam is not immune. We realize how serious this can be,” he said. “I asked him if there was anything that he would have done differently. He said, 'Nothing.'”

When the meeting was opened up to public comment, parents were quick to share their concerns. Denise Shippee said her children were really upset over the incident. One child asked her if a shooter made his way to the top floor of the school where he attends, should he jump out the window. “It's better than dying,” the boy told his mother. She said her children told her that seeing police at school would make them feel safe.

Amanda Whitlock wanted to know the lock-down procedure, which Hull did not share. “I understand why they don't share it,” she said after the meeting.

Jared Spalding's main concern was making sure there was enough personnel to deal with mental health issues. “I don't know if the answer was clearly stated tonight, but I'm sure they'll be more than happy to step it up,” he said. He wanted to know if the school planned to address the issue with kids. His daughter, who has the same name as one of the victims, had been very upset. “Some kids are shy and don't want to talk with their parents,” he said. “Everybody is concerned.”

Hull said that staff would discuss it only if it was initiated by the student. “Some parents don't want us to hold these discussions,” Hull said. Merrill said that the best advice he'd been given was to spare children from a traumatic event if at all possible. “If your kids aren't reacting, if God willing it's gone over their heads, let that be,” he said.

“It's everyone's obligation to learn from every incident,” Hull said. “We have good plans in place. We practice. Our staff works diligently to keep kids safe.”

“What can we do better?” one parent asked.

“You're doing it by being here tonight,” Hull said. “Engagement. Ask your kids to let you know their concerns, especially around safety. Be active.”

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