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June BOE Meeting Highlights

New principal appointees, a review of school security, and recognition of several community members were among the items discussed at the June 19, 2013 meeting of the Manchester Township Board of Education.

Dennis Adams, a Manchester alumnus and current principal in Keansburg, was appointed as the new Principal of Manchester Township High School. He will take over next year for current principal, Alex George, who was previously appointed to replace Director of Student & Administrative Services, Kevin Burger, who is retiring September 1. Evelyn Swift, who is currently Vice Principal at MTHS and also a Manchester alumnus, was appointed as the new Whiting Elementary School Principal. She will replace Dr. Frances Scudese, who is retiring July 1.

Superintendent of Schools, David Trethaway, recognized three community members for their support of Manchester schools. “We often recognize our students and staff for their achievements but we also have some community members who contribute greatly to our schools and provide opportunities that benefit our students,” he remarked. He presented certificates and Hawk pins to Michael Leppert, outgoing president of the MTHS Booster Club; Manchester Township Police Chief, Brian Klimakowski; and to Charles Mule, owner of Charlie’s Pizza & Restaurant (who was unable to attend the meeting). “These people give a lot to Manchester and continue to give a lot...they are unsung heroes and are always there when we need them,” said Trethaway. [see related article]

Chief Klimakowski Trethaway said that, after the school shooting in Connecticut, he requested that Chief Klimakowski review security at all of Manchester’s schools. He asked Klimakowski to review his findings and recommendations for the Board. Klimakowski gave a brief historical perspective of events that brought about public focus on school security, up to and including the Sandy Hook incident. He said that he was appointed to the Governor’s Task Force on School Security, which is working on a new report and recommendations for schools statewide. He said that the Manchester School District has been very proactive with school security and showed a district safety manual that he noted was dated as being originally created in 1997 and updated numerous times since then. What was notable at Sandy Hook, he said, was that it was an elementary school and that the shooter was in before they could even activate a lockdown, which now has schools looking at ways to slow down an intruder to give staff and police time to react.

Klimakowski said that a two-prong approach is necessary. First, schools need to find ways to solicit information on what might happen. “After an incident, we often find that people knew there was a problem, people talked about it, but didn’t take it seriously,” he commented. “We have to establish communication lines between faculty and students. We need to encourage people to report things and then take them seriously and vet them.”  He said the task force also discussed the need for communication between the schools, law enforcement and various agencies like DYFS. Second, schools need to ‘harden targets’ by using best practices for physical security, including using less glass in school buildings, limiting visitors, and finding ways ‘to slow the bad guy down.’

When he looked at Manchester’s schools, Klimakowski said he looked at access control for staff, students, visitors and contractors; communication and backup; intruder detection and alarms; and surveillance. He said that what he found in Manchester was 'overall excellent’ but they did find some door issues and other minor things. One problem area, he said, is the chaos of drop-off and pickup of students at the schools and he recommended discouraging parents from driving their children to school. “This is a big problem...parents need to let their kids use the bus,” he remarked. He also recommended that surveillance cameras be upgraded to provide a better view and that interior locks be standardized. He said that, ideally, the schools would have an entryway with a second set of doors to slow down an intruder. He also recommended limiting visitor access and possibly having a staff member walk visitors to where they are supposed to be going within the building. As for the idea of armed guards in schools, he noted that the law enforcement community does not believe this is good idea but does encourage having School Resource Officers (SRO), which are town police officers who are assigned to work at the schools. There is already an SRO at Manchester High School and Klimakowski said that his department is hoping to get some federal grant money that could provide an SRO for the middle school. He said that the police department itself has also instituted a lot of new programs that focus much more attention on the schools.

Trethaway thanked Klimakowski for all his help and asked Business Administrator, Craig Lorentzen, to review some of the things the district would be doing over the summer to improve security. Lorentzen said that the district would implement a new card reader access system at all buildings. “You must have a card or you will have to be buzzed in,” he said. The card system is also programmable, allowing the district to deactivate cards when necessary and to set times when the cardholder may access the building. High definition security cameras with a wider view of entryways and the ability to automatically record will be installed at all schools. The district is also looking at installing a new type of security film on glass doors and windows. Lorentzen said the film strengthens the glass and could allow 15-20 minutes of extra time before an intruder could break through. In addition, he said that alarms would be upgraded in several of the buildings. He said that plans are to have all of these items in place by September. “This is just the start,” he said. “We are still identifying areas where we might be able to do more.”

Lorentzen said that the district also plans to have wireless internet installed throughout the district by September, as well as a new telephone system.

Cuts to federal funding for the district’s NCLB and IDEA grants ‘were not as bad as we thought they would be’ at $53,000 for each fund, Lorentzen told the board.

Lorentzen reported that the district’s school lunch prices would increase by ten cents next year to $2.45 for elementary and $2.70 for HS/MS in order to slowly reach the federally-required target average of $2.54 by 2014. “We don’t like to increase it but we have to meet federal requirements,” he remarked.