Putnam educators hear parents' concerns on school safety

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Mon., Feb. 4, 2013

When Putnam Superintendent of Schools William Hull opened up a community forum on school security to public comment on Jan. 31, he and Board of Education members expected to hear from plenty of parents and residents. They had held a community forum on security soon after the shooting in Newtown, and then the middle school received bomb threats. People were on edge.

Microphones were set up in the two aisles of Putnam Middle School, where more than 50 people listened to Hull’s presentation on steps taken since Dec. 14 to ensure student safety, as well as discussions currently underway about additional safety steps. “We're all here for the safety of children,” said BOE Chair Michael Morrill. “We believe every person is here for that same reason.”

After Hull, Police Chief Rick Hayes and Deputy Police Chief Lionel Konicki spoke, what they heard from the public was congratulations and thanks. People didn't bother going to the microphones. They raised their hands from their seats and waited to be called on. The first to speak was a woman who told Hull, “I'm really pleased with what I'm hearing. We are a community. We need to be parents to all the children in our community.”

Questions followed. Some parents offered suggestions. To each one, Hull offered an answer. The forum turned into a brainstorming session about what steps to take to ensure all children in Putnam are protected.

Hull praised the collaboration between the schools and the Putnam Police Department. “We're talking continuously with them,” Hull said. He credited those talks, an open atmosphere between students and staff and some detective work for the arrests of four students in connection with the bomb threats at PMS. “We investigated every threat. We treated them seriously,” Hull said. But he cautioned parents that there was a delicate balance between making sure schools are safe and secure, and providing a warm and loving environment for children to learn in. “We're fighting that fight,” he said. “We're struggling with that.”

The administration has undertaken reviews of all safety policies and procedures in the district. According to Hull, they have tried to make communication between parents and staff as transparent as possible, have worked hand-in-hand with the Putnam PD to identify layouts of all schools, and have instituted Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports at all schools. PBIS is a framework for reducing problem behavior.

Morrill called on parents to remain actively engaged in their children's lives. “The biggest thing you can take away from this forum is that being engaged with your child is the best prevention. Twenty-five years of research shows that you can mitigate these things by being active and involved,” Morrill said.

Parents raised a number of questions after the presentation. Hull answered them all, from squelching rumors that some teachers were purchasing guns and training with them, to noting suggestions to pursue. Hull reminded his audience that most middle school students aren't great decision-makers. “Two-hundred ninety-five students are doing everything right,” he said. “Five kids called in pranks. We made four arrests. We're serious.”

A recent technical glitch in the notification system de-linked telephone numbers from the school's computers to the company contracted to send notices to parents. Some parents asked that a school resource officer be provided in Putnam schools. An SRO is a police officer who has gone through specific training to be a resource in school settings. Hayes said Putnam was waiting to see if grants would be available to Connecticut schools if SROs are mandated. If the state funds the positions, Putnam might be disqualified from that funding source if they already had an SRO in place.

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