In the wake of last weekend’s attack on Israel — and several security issues that followed this week, at schools across the country — superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice offers these words to the Westport community:
Like all of you I have watched and listened in horror to the atrocities committed in Israel over the past week. Categorically together with you, the Westport Public Schools stand against, and condemn, all forms of hate and violence.
Our job as public educators is to support the growth and development of our students. That work is optimized in an environment marked by physical and emotional well-being, one in which students feel safe, and an abiding sense of belonging and affiliation. This is the foundation of all learning.
As much as we try, the chaos and evils of the outside world penetrate the walls of our schools. When this happens, we respond to the best of our abilities.
Rather than divide and scatter, as chaos and evil can do, we work to pull closer together as a wider Westport school community to serve our students. This is evident in how our teachers and support staff earnestly seek resources to support our students, in how our police and first responders organize to ensure our schools remain safe, and in how local community groups, such as our faith community and town Human Services Department mobilize in times of need.
In the Spirit of Our Shared Humanity
I came across this last night. In the spirit of our shared humanity, in the face of inhumane acts, I find this to be someone who can sometimes say the difficult things out loud while transcending whatever boundaries exist between us. I’m dating myself a bit here, and I’m not even a diehard U2 fan, but as I experienced a range of emotions this week, from abject sadness to outright fury, his voice and language spoke to me, and I hope it resonates with you.
Given the current and enduring climate of social media, I’d like to reiterate my security message to the school community from September. I expect a continued assault on our senses from social media in the coming weeks and months. Social media has proven to exploit some of the very worst of humanity. These messages will likely stir profound fear.
Yet I want to assure our school community that we have tremendous resources in place to ensure the safety and well-being of our students and staff.
Last month the town approved funding for additional armed police officers who are assigned exclusively to our campuses. These 4 school security officers are dedicated entirely to patrol our campuses. They do not act as general patrol officers for our town, but as police officers for our school campuses.
One SSO is assigned to each of the following: Coleytown Middle and Elementary; Kings Highway/Saugatuck Elementary, Staples High/Bedford Middle, and Greens Farms/Long Lots. Their schedules align with arrival and dismissal times of the schools.
In addition to these 4 police officers assigned to our schools, the district hosts another police officer, a school resource officer at Staples High School. This officer implements the “triad model” of “school resource officer policing”: educator, informal counselor, law enforcement officer.
Ed Wooldridge is Staples’ highly regarded and very popular school resource officer.
Furthermore, each school has a full-time security guard who is assigned to the interior of our schools. Together with the building administration, each security guard is in close contact with each campus assigned SSO.
As the building administration and security guards work to ensure safety inside our schools, the SSOs are assigned to patrol our school campuses, school grounds, and assist with traffic, pedestrians, and overall safety measures. SSOs are invited in our schools by building administrators when necessary.
Above all, these additional officers significantly increase response time in the event of an emergency, a critical strategy in school security.
We are on high alert every day. This is the reality of school security in the modern world. We are well resourced and prepared each day to provide a safe learning environment.
Other Responsive Efforts to Coordinate Support for Students
In order to coordinate our responsive efforts, I discussed our approach with the PTA presidents from all 8 schools in our monthly meeting on Wednesday. This group is instrumental in providing me feedback from the parent population. Furthermore, this group of parent leaders/volunteers offers consequential input into the district’s decisions and has an ongoing opportunity to share insights and feedback from the parent population. I am a better educational leader as a result of their critical feedback.
In addition, I reached out to Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn, president of the Interfaith Clergy Association of Westport and Weston, to schedule a meeting next week with the local rabbis as I seek additional guidance on how to best support our Jewish students. This will be followed by a subsequent meeting with the Interfaith Clergy Association of Westport and Weston.
Our team has been in contact with Jewish Family Services in order to coordinate and provide support to Jewish families or staff in need. Jewish Family Services provides open office hours with trained social workers who offer clinical support in the following areas for those in need:
- coping with emotional responses to trauma
- expressing grief and fear
- finding comfort in community
Finally, I held the monthly meeting of our district Leadership Team, composed of all 45 district administrators. We reviewed our security protocols, discussed how to best support students and staff, and coordinated resources within, and outside, the school buildings.
Support for Families In Talking with Your Children
One of our roles as educators is to provide parents with resources to support the development of your children. Although this is a very challenging topic, the following resources should prove helpful if you are struggling with a discussion with your child:
- Talking to Children about War
- How To Talk to Kids about Violence, Crime, and War
- Terrorism and War: How to Talk to Children
Please do not hesitate to contact one of our counselors, school psychologists, or building administrators if you need additional support and guidance with your child.