PPS Plans for Enhanced School Safety, Resolving Issues Before They Flare Up
By Donald Gilpin
In a climate of increasing gun violence and school shootings throughout the country, Princeton Public Schools Superintendent Carol Kelley sent an email message to PPS families earlier this month, reporting on enhanced safety measures and plans for strengthening security at the district’s six schools.
The plans, which are already in the works, include training programs for students, teachers, staff, and administration; closer ties with the Princeton Police Department (PPD); expanded roles for building monitors and safety teams at each school; as well as more stringent access control and visitor policies.
Top priorities seem to be enhanced communication at all levels throughout the schools and an increased emphasis on addressing problems before they expand.
“The best way to approach school safety is to resolve issues before they become a crisis,” Kelley wrote. “Being alert for potential problems, knowing students personally, and providing a scaffolding of mental health supports is part of the safety process.”
Kelley noted that some schools, including Princeton High School, were planning to expand safety teams to include more school counselors.
“At the school level, we are planning a regular cadence of meetings for our School Safety Teams in each school,” she added. She pointed out that PPS Coordinator of Student Health and Safety Corey Laramore has been reviewing safety procedures and collaborating with the PPD.
Among the enhanced security measures she cited were an improved system provided by Raptor Technologies for identifying visitors and controlling access to the buildings; ongoing review of safety evacuation plans and procedures on 911 emergency calls; a PPD officer in attendance at District Safety Team meetings; and additional safety training for building monitors and district representatives with the PPD and with the New Jersey Department of Education.
“The challenge that needs the most attention right now is communication,” said Laramore in a June 13 phone conversation. “Everyone needs to receive the same information that’s factual and distributed in a timely fashion in its proper context. That was the whole purpose of developing safety teams at each school site, also creating the district safety team, which is about to be in full motion in collaboration with the Princeton Police Department.”
He continued, “Everyone needs to receive the same information and to get the input on what strategies might help, what new policies are available. If anything takes place, everyone needs to know what to do, who to contact, and how to effectively move forward, instead of saying ‘Wait a minute I wasn’t trained. I don’t know anything about this.’”
Laramore emphasized the importance of everybody getting involved and being properly prepared. “Safety is not up to one department,” he said. “Neither is it in the hands of the police alone. It’s all of us working together. If you see something, say something. Or hear something, speak up.”
Student involvement is key, he pointed out. “It’s one thing to protect our students, and it’s another thing for them to be involved in the process. There will be training for the students as well. At other schools in other districts, I hear a lot about training for everyone except for the actual students, but that’s going to be a key step for us.”
One of the training strategies Laramore discussed is the issue of threat assessment inside the schools, providing help in identifying threats and enacting preventative measures in students who have negative changes of behavior. “We want to notate early on who’s involved in this student’s life — teachers, parents, friends, administrators — to try to provide services at an earlier position and then equip staff with the proper know-how to try to assess those behaviors so that we can approach things earlier as opposed to finding out later through social media or other means.”
He continued, “Communication becomes key, sharing information about details of changes of behavior of students that might raise a red flag.”
The district is not just in the planning stages in strengthening school safety, Laramore stated. “This is in motion. We’re getting ready for September. Contacts have been made, meetings are happening, During the summer there will be a lot of meetings, a lot of training, a lot of coming together and collaborating on the best practices for our school district. It’s all already underway.”