Story by Lisa Rice
At the start of the Warwick Board of Education meeting on Mon., Aug. 6, Vice President Keith Parsons announced that the School District received a congratulatory letter from State Senator John Bonacic on obtaining the distinction of being the first District in Orange County to be appointed to the Tri-State Consortium. The Tri-State consortium is a group of public schools districts in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to advance teaching and learning initiatives.
Superintendent Reports Safety First
Superintendent Dr. David Leach reported that the School District has implemented several changes in regards to school safety and security. Beginning in September, each of the four schools in the District will have a full-time officer from the Town of Warwick Police Department during the instructional day.
Officers in the Middle School and High School will remain after hours for athletics and after school extra-curricular activities. In addition to the police officers, who will perform daily walkthroughs of the buildings, there will also be security guards and unannounced police department visits to each school.
Background Checks for School Entry
A single-entry, double-door vestibule is nearly complete at the High School, which will restrict entry to the building to one location. All schools in the District have been upgraded with airlock double-door entryways and locked entrances with approved swipe-card access.
Visitors will enter and check in with the greeter, who will run “Raptor” security check and once visitors are cleared to enter, they will unlock a second set of doors to the main lobby. The Raptor Visitor Management System performs a background check on every visitor each time they enter a school building, and prints a badge with the visitor’s name, photo, date, time, and destination. The technology can send alerts to administrators and law enforcement.
Lockdown & Emergency Drills Added
There will be four lockdown drills per year in each building, school bus and tabletop crisis emergency drills in coordination with Orange County 911, Orange County Mutual Aid and local first responders, in addition to regularly scheduled fire drills.
Increased Security Technology & Training
Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) are located within a four-minute range in every school building and each school bus.
The Warwick Police Department has wireless access to District video surveillance cameras at the police station and in police cars. High-resolution cameras have been purchased and installed in the buildings and 75 new digital radios have been purchased. The District, in collaboration with the police department, will be attentive to inappropriate student activity on social media.
Each building will have a trained Crisis Management team of staff including psychologists, counselors, nurses, social workers, and guidance with members of the Orange County-level crisis intervention/stress management team, as necessary. The entire District faculty and staff will continue to receive safety and security training.
Upcoming safety and security projects include relocating the main office at the Middle School to increase security in the vestibule, and the Police Department will conduct an “active shooter” drill during non-school hours for its officers.
District to Address Emotional Intelligence
“While our recent school security enhancements are critical, we would be shortsighted to stop there,” said Dr. Leach, discussing the District’s partnership with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence with the goal of improving emotional skills, effectiveness and well-being. “We have had some success with anti-bullying initiatives, but I question the efficacy of most of these approaches as they address only the symptoms. We all need the fundamental skills to regulate our emotions; it is when some strong emotions remain unregulated it can lead to harmful behaviors. This approach will help us address the underlying causes. Fortunately, we can help children and adults develop their emotional intelligence.”
Schedules on Parent Portal Fri., Aug. 24
The District continues to save the enormous cost of paper mailings using technology to deliver the 2018-19 school schedules and transportation information via the student/parent portal on Fri., Aug. 24. According to Dr. Leach, the District purposely waits as long as possible to release the information to take into consideration potential changes in schedules and personnel.
The District is also just about ready to release new School District mobile apps for each school in the District. Recognizing that more and more people are accessing their information on cell phones, the goal is to increase parent engagement, provide instant communication and keep the community informed.
The apps will allow access to the parent and student portals, school calendar, lunch menus, social media and athletics. Reminders will be able to be sent, lunch funds added, and even communicate with teachers. The District will be able to send out push notifications to all subscribers using the app. For more information, search “Warwick Valley Middle School” on mobile device’s app store and download.
Later Start Times for Older Students Explored
At the work session scheduled for Mon., Aug. 20, the school administration and Board of Education will offer feedback regarding a possible later school starting time for older students. If implemented, this would start in the fall of 2019.
Educating Tomorrow’s Leaders
Board member Bob Howe reported the success of the recent “Break the Stigma” walk, organized by a Warwick Valley High School graduate and coordinated through the Warwick Valley Coalition and the Community Center to raise awareness about addiction.
“Many businesses contributed and about 300 people showed up,” reported Howe, “including former addicts, members of families who lost friends and family to overdose and drugs.”
He suggested having a work session and perhaps build committees to raise awareness of substance abuse in the District. Dr. Leach commented that the District was looking into doing something later in the year.
Howe reported that he recently attended a luncheon for the completion of the Summer Youth Leadership Academy (SYLA) held at the Warwick Valley Community Center. The four-week program admits seventh and eighth grade students, selected by panel interview, to engage in opportunities and activities to foster leadership skills. He said he was very impressed with this year’s group and wondered if somehow the District could contact the students throughout the year to collaborate on improving the school culture.
Middle School Principal Georgianna Diopoulos and High School Principal Dr. Larry Washington reported on education and awareness activities going on in their respective schools through communication and education.
“Ultimately we want to get to the point of parent-student workshops to improve communication,” said Diopoulos.
Washington stated that at the high school level, they are going to change the format of the driver awareness program beyond student parking to include accountability and invite members of the coalition and the ambulance corps to school events like Homecoming with the goal to craft a plan that substance abuse awareness is a culture rather than an event.
“The opioid crisis involves you no matter what zip code,” stated Dr. Leach.
CTE Scholarship Donations Approved
A motion was approved to accept monetary donations from various donors to be used toward WVHS Career and Technology Education Scholarships. It was noted that the Video Production classes shared and produced commercials for local businesses as a project and the businesses were generally so pleased that many wanted to donate toward a scholarship program.
Dr. Leach acknowledged that the college path is not the correct path for every student and was happy that the District had a Career and Technical Honor Society for students enrolled in the in-school CTE programs, Cosmetology, Criminal Justice, and Video Production, last year.
“It gives recognition to kids that are on a career path, rather than an academic path. Being college and career ready is not always the same path for everyone,” said Dr. Leach.
Request to Readdress the Graduation Gown
The Class of 2018 received an unexpected change in graduation apparel when the traditionally purple gowns for the boys and white gowns for the girls were replaced by a unisex purple gown with a gold stripe down the center. During the resident comments portion of the meeting, Kathy Eder, the mother of a WVHS senior asked the Board if the new gown was going to be used for the Class of 2019 as well.
Having just received her son’s graduation pictures, taken in a solid purple gown, she wanted to ensure that the formal portraits would match the actual attire for the day of graduation; a common complaint by Class of 2018 parents who paid for the portraits prior to learning of the garb change.
“They didn’t look good,” said Eder. “They were not representative of our District. We can do better.”
Dr. Leach told Eder that Principal Washington would be open to discussing the situation further with her. He added that many schools have opted for a single, inclusive color and said that Warwick was one of the last to have separate color gowns. Actually, of the 14 neighboring school districts in Orange County, only five have a single color graduation gown.
Eder stated that one solid color or providing students with their choice of purple or white would be preferable to the striped gown recently used.
Departing the meeting, Dr. Washington approached Eder and said that he would be happy to discuss available options with her in the coming week.
Next Board Meeting
The next School Board meeting will be held on Mon., Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Dorothy C. Wilson Education Center, located at 225 West St., Warwick.