At the Nov. 5 meeting of the Cranston Education Advisory Board (CEAB), the focus was on school safety across the district.
The guest speaker for the evening was Cranston Public Schools District Safety Coordinator Paul Olszewski. Also present were CEAB chairperson Jen Davey, past chairperson John McCarthy, Cranston Public Schools Executive Director of Educational Programs and Services, Joseph Rotz.
McCarthy spoke to the current state of the board, noting that both the chairperson and vice chairperson positions will be open for the next year. He also noted that a new school committee representative would need to be appointed, since the past representative, Jeffrey Gale, is no longer going to be a member of the school committee.
The issue of low attendance at meetings was discussed as well. In past years, each elementary, middle and high school was required to send a representative to the meetings, a board of representatives for the district, or a super PTO minus the fundraising, as Davey described it, and each representative was able to bring back important district-wide information to their school PTO. The representatives were also able to broach issues of concern to the district leaders, which could be brought back to administration for consideration as well.
However, schools have not been sending representatives to the meetings, leading to low attendance, as is the case with many meetings across the district. It was noted that parents are pulled in many directions, but that the information dispersed at the CEAB meetings was vital. The schedule for the 2018-2019 school year was modified to include just four meetings throughout the year, and the meetings will continue to alternate between locations on the eastern side and western sides of the city.
Olszewski presented information to the group about current school safety initiatives. He described one of the biggest initiatives in safety as being a card access system that allows all of the school entrances to remain locked while giving school staff the ability to open the doors with the card readers. Upon entering the buildings the doors then lock directly behind them.
“This helps us immensely in keeping the buildings locked at all times,” he said.
He also explained that video cameras in the schools have been updated and that staff have been trained in tracking guests who enter the building once buzzed in when the offices are not located nearby the entrance of the schools, as is the case at a school such as Waterman Elementary School.
At schools where portable classrooms are utilized, changes have been made so that card readers allow the students to go in and out of the main building to use the bathrooms more easily.
Olszewski encouraged parent organizations not to purchase their own security items for the schools, such as walkie-talkies, for example, because the district’s needs are specific and are oftentimes coordinated district-wide, as well as with the Cranston Police Department.
He updated guests on the Alert, Lockdown, Counter, Inform and Evacuate (ALICE) training and the fact that all staff and students have been trained for the current school year. The training is done every year and includes food service workers and all support staff in addition to teaching staff.
“The idea of if you see something, say something is very important,” he said. “Students should feel comfortable going to their School Resource Officers to let them know if something is concerning to them. The Cranston Police Department has been bringing more patrol officers into every school every day so that if there was an emergency situation, they are familiar with the buildings and the staff and students are familiar with them. Most likely in an emergency, it’s the patrol officers that are nearby that would be responding.”
Olszewski explained that by Rhode Island state law, all schools must have a School Crisis Response Team, which is a small team made up of faculty and staff from each school with specialties such as first aid, bilingual abilities, as well as having custodians and others who could assist with issues in a school that do not rise to a district level. If the issues rise to a larger level, they go to the district response team. He cited the example of the floods that happened at Edgewood Highland Elementary School last year and required responses such as transporting students to an alternate location, which is something that requires district-level support.
He segued from that example into a reminder for parents to make sure that their Emergency Care Cards are updated in case of such a crisis, and also reminded parents to always carry their identification with them at all times.
In addition, he noted that state law requires one fire drill per month, two evacuation drills per month, and two lockdown drills per month in order to familiarize students and staff with all procedures in case of emergencies.
Olszewski concluded his presentation by passing along his office phone number for those who had concerns in the future, including parent organizations. He can be reached at 270-8388.
Rotz updated the parents present about current initiatives taking place throughout the district, including the middle school pathways programs, blended learning, and the new block scheduling system at the high schools. He noted that a $200,000 grant had been received from the Carnegie Foundation, which helped to fund the implementation and training of teachers across the district in the areas of blended and personalized learning through the Highlander Foundation.
“Teachers are enjoying it, and momentum is building as they learn how to create more opportunities for students to do more project-based learning in the classrooms and how to meet the students where they are at,” he said. “Its a learning curve, and there are a lot of balls in the air, but teachers are learning to balance technology, assessments, scope and sequence.”
He also strongly encouraged parents to be in attendance at upcoming district meetings in regards to the Fielding Nair International plans for the future of the district buildings.
“Some important decisions are going to have to be made in the coming months, and they’re hard decisions, and parents are going to want to know what is going on,” Rotz said.
An upcoming public meeting to roll out the Fielding Nair International recommendations for Cranston Public Schools will be taking place on Wednesday, Nov. 14, at Cranston High School West in the library at 6 p.m. and Rotz encouraged parents to spread the word, and for all to attend.
The next meeting of the CEAB will take place on January 7, 2019 at the Cranston High School East media center.