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Schools Eye More Funding for Safety

July 24, 2018

By Mina Corpuz

mcorpuz@sentinel andenterprise.com

Area superintendents are hoping for additional funding from the state that could help their districts hire more staff to address student mental health and get schools safety equipment.

“We have such demand and not enough staff,” said Ashburnham-Westminster Superintendent Gary Mazzola. “When kids feel safe we don’t have the violence and school safety problems.”

Gov. Charlie Baker filed legislation to invest $150 million in public school education and safety through a supplemental budget. It includes money for mental health staff, school security upgrades, and safety training.

Funding from the state could help outfit schools with safety equipment like security cameras, said Fitchburg Superintendent Andre Ravenelle.

The district is pursuing grants that could help pay for outdoor lighting and a system for staff to contact police during an emergency, he said.

“I’m learning more about security that I have ever wanted to as a superintendent, but it’s part of the job,” Ravenelle said.

For Ash-West, Mazzola wants to address building access because all entrances and exits to school buildings are within direct sight of staff members. Decreasing outside access to students would help project them, he said.

One way districts work with law enforcement to ensure school safety is by having school resource officers on campus.

Fitchburg has four SROs, two of which are assigned to the high school, Ravenelle said. The district will add two more next year school year, he said.

Mazzola said Ash-West has four SROs -- two from each department.

Lunenburg has one SRO, according to the district.

Superintendent Kate Burnham said there is interest in reinstating a safety committee for the district.

“This would allow the schools to work in conjunction with public safety officials to make adjustments to emergency plans, should we see changes in the nature of potential safety issues evolve over time,” she said.

In addition to safety measures and working with law enforcement, Ravenelle said the district should develop a school culture in which students feel safe and comfortable speaking to school staff.

There have been two or three cases within the past few years when students saw something on social media and reported it to school staff, he said.

Ravenelle said the district investigates any reports about safety.

“You don’t want to be in the situation that the one thing you didn’t follow up on becomes an incident,” he said.

To support students’ mental, social, and emotional health, Mazzola said the supplemental budget could help Ash-West increase staff at the high school and hours of counseling staff around the district.

There is currently at least one counselor at each school, he said.

In Fitchburg, the district is looking for ways to support students by being proactive, Ravenelle said.

The district has more than 30 school support staff members who work as psychologists, guidance counselors, behavior analysts, and special education administrators, according to staffing numbers he provided.

At the Lunenburg Primary School and Turkey Hill Elementary, school staff have been trained in the area of emotional intelligence, Burnham said.

The entire district will receive trauma training in the fall, she said.

Follow Mina on Twitter @mlcorpuz

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