A Message from the Board President

School Security
Rich Young, President, Robbinsville Board of Education
May 29, 2018

First, I’d like to thank everyone who is here tonight as part of our continued effort to improve security in the Robbinsville School System.  As many of you know, all of us on the Board have children, spouses, friends and colleagues who spend a significant portion of their lives in our buildings.   Collectively, more than anything else, we want nothing more than to keep all of them safe.

School Security is a National Problem

As we’ve seen recent events unfold in far too many schools nationwide, these incidents send chills through all of us.   It has led us to ask over and over again, are we doing enough and can we do more?   The reality is that our district has taken great strides, many strong steps, not just this year, but over the past several years to increase the ways that our children, teachers and staff remain safe and secure.   Many of these measures you’ve seen…including new entrance ways at Sharon and Pond – and soon the High School.  Other measures we don’t talk about publicly because we don’t want the bad actors to know all of our plans.   Keep in mind, all of us sitting at this table have a vested and personal interest in ensuring we’re doing whatever needs to be done in other to keep our facilities, staff and staff safe and secure.

New Security Initiatives in Robbinsville

Just this year, we’ve embarked on several new initiatives.  First, starting in September, we will have a permanent and dedicated school resource officers... full-time members of the Robbinsville Police force...  in each Robbinsville school.  They will be armed.  They will spend their days proactively and reactively looking at situations in real-time.  The two new officers will be in addition to Patrolman Ed Vincent.   We will formally introduce them to you in a few minutes.  In the meantime, our police department has stepped-up their patrols and presence at all of our facilities.

In addition, we intend to construct a new, more secure entrance at Robbinsville High School.  It will be similar to what’s now in place at Sharon and Pond.  Simply put, there will be a series of barriers or check points before someone is admitted into our facilities.  We are also looking to construct new barriers at the front and back of the high school – permanent poles or bollards --- essentially what you see now at Sharon and Pond.  Our goal is to have this new secure entrance in place in the fall.

Please keep in mind, Sharon and Pond are not being neglected.  After the shooting at Sandy Hook school in Connecticut several years ago, our district did a major top to bottom security study.  A vast majority of the recommendations were put in place since that time.   While we were doing major additions and renovations both Sharon and Pond, several of these new security measures and enhancements were implemented or constructed during the renovation period.  This includes an extensive camera network in all of our schools which includes a direct connection to our police department.  We intend to add additional cameras over the next few months.

School Security is more than Physical Enhancements

It’s important to remember that school security is more than just physical changes.  Our goal as a school system and our goal as a community is to help identify those who might be considering doing something dangerous before it occurs.  Over the past couple of years, prudent parents and students have brought potential issues to our attention that may have prevented an incident from happening.  That doesn’t mean a dangerous situation was imminent.  It means that a particular situation was unstable and we were able to work with our police department and our school leaders to potentially prevent an incident.   When this happens, this collective effort provides an opportunity to offer help to someone who may need it.

We’re also making improvements that don’t cost anything.  We’re working to create a culture of safety that doesn’t require large amounts of capital, such as educating the students on the importance of "saying something if they see something”.   We also want to end so-called tailgating… not celebrations before or after games…but the practice of holding open a door for strangers.     

And while we’re talking about preventing situations, one of the recommendations that we’ve been hearing consistently is that we need to increase the number of counselors in our schools.  We listened and that’s happening.   Our high school will open this fall if with a new, full-time guidance counselor on staff.  We’re also bringing in a new firm that will greatly help us with identifying and working with students with behavioral or social issues.  The goal is to offer help to those students who need assistance long before anything occurs.   The current system that we’ve been using in the high school will be re-deployed to offer similar services to students at both Pond and Sharon.

In addition, I’m happy to report that Robbinsville will be a part of Mercer County Rapid Response Partnership.  This group brings together local police, fire, rescue, and school officials to implement a unified response to any incident in the county, including school safety & security events.  The goal is to create common language and organized response protocols & responsibilities with multiple respondents from surrounding towns to a single scene.  Robbinsville will an active participant in this initiative.   Our facilities head Kim Keener and High School principal Molly Avery are active members of this organization.

School Security is a Top Priority

The bottom line for all of you to know is that this board and this district have made school security its number one priority.   I think we can all agree in that we could have the best academic programs in the world, but if our buildings, students and staff are not secure, it means nothing.  We also need to keep mind each enhancement comes at a cost.  Personally, I believe that even if we had a bottomless pot of funding – and you know that we do not -- none of us could sit here and give a 100 percent guarantee that we can ever fully prevent an adverse security incident.  We live in an open society.  And when we live that way, we must do whatever we can to prevent risks, but there’s never an ultimate and fool-proof guarantee.

Going forward, we intend to have a special meeting focused on school security in the next few weeks.  As soon as we have a firm date, we’ll let all of you know. In the meantime, we continue to look at your recommendations and others.  If we find that we’re lacking in a certain area, we will take steps to improve our systems. 

School Resource Officer Introduction

Now, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce Robbinsville Police Lt. Michael Polaski who is a true friend and partner to our district.  He, along with Chief Nitti and our town’s police director, Mayor Dave Fried, have been invaluable partners in our efforts to improve security.  After the shooting at the Parkland school in Florida in February, Dr. Foster and I got on the phone with Mayor Fried.  We said we need dedicated officers in each school.  Within a second, our Mayor committed to making that happen.  And the town is assuming the majority of these costs for the next couple of years.

Personally, I am thrilled knowing that we will have a fulltime police presence in our buildings.   With all that we’ve seen over the past few years, it’s hard to imagine operating a school in 2018 without them.  As I said, they will play both a proactive and reactive role in our buildings -- including the monitoring of a new school security tip line that will be established so that someone can anonymously report a tip that will be reviewed by those who know best.

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