On Monday, the first full day of school since the Newtown shooting that left 26 innocent people dead, Waterford Public Schools tried to regain some sense of normalcy.
Not that everything was normal. There were police officers stationed at every school for the drop-off and pick-up times, and the district’s crisis teams were on alert for students and adults who needed counseling or support.
But, according to Superintendent Jerome Belair, it went pretty well.
“We were really looking for signals for how much we needed to talk about it, and it was very little,” said Belair, who asked parents to talk their children about the shooting during the weekend. “I think the day went well, I think we created a sense of normalcy.”
Belair and Police Chief Murray Pendleton said the district’s staff reviewed procedures the district has in-place and discussed if they needed to make any changes. The two men said the procedures are constantly being updated, but this provided another chance to ensure they are up to standard.
“The key is the human element in dealing with the crisis itself,” said Pendleton, who added that the only way to improve that is through training.
Pendleton said it was too early to tell if there would be any changes to the protocols Waterford has in-place because all of the facts from the Newtown shootings have yet to be released. But Belair said that he hopes there never comes a point where schools are completely cut off to the public during the school day.
“It is a balance,” Belair said. “I hope we never lose the opportunity to get the community involved with the kids in our schools. We just need to be mindful of who we let in.”
Belair and Pendleton both agreed that they would not station a police officer at all three elementary schools all day long. Belair said that decision isn’t about cost, but if it is needed.
“It comes down to is that really necessary,” Belair said. “And I don’t believe that it is necessary in this point in time.”
Pendleton said it appeared, at least from initial reports, that the staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School followed the protocols of a lock-down well and the security at the school was okay. However, it appears the shooter shot through an entrance point and made his way into the school, he said.
“Everything seemed to be very much in-place,” Pendleton said.
Belair said the school district is proactive in identifying students who appear to have not just problems academically, but socially and emotionally as well. When a staff member sees a student struggling with any issues, the school involves the parents, and the school psychologist and the school social worker can become involved as well, Belair said.
“We try to support the kids and support the families however we can,” Belair said. “That’s very much part of our radar.”
He added that if anybody sees anything suspicious at any school, they should not be bashful to report it. And both Belair and Pendleton agreed a benefit Waterford has with this problem is the excellent relationship between the police department and the school district.
“That’s something that I’ve been working on and I’ve been extremely successful with for the last 40 years,” Pendleton said. “We talk frequently, sometimes daily about a variety of issues… I don’t think we are second to anybody in that category.”