School Safety forum reassures anxious parents

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From left, Principal of Southside Middle School Jennifer Gillis; School Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas; Mayor Joyce Craig; Fire Chief Daniel Goonan; Manchester Police Lt. Brian O’Keefe; Manchester Det. Michael Abruzese; Sgt. Matt Larochelle; and Phil Alexakos, Chief of Environmental Health and Emergency Preparedness, Manchester Health Department. Photo/Laura Aronson

MANCHESTER, NH – Fourteen city officials led a forum on school safety at Manchester School of Technology on March 20. The panel was chaired by Jennifer Gillis, the Principal of Southside Middle School, who leads the emergency planning group for the Manchester School District. Panelists represented the school district as well as, the city’s fire and police departments.

More than 50 parents and community members in attendance asked about security procedures and made suggestions, including arming and training teachers. In response to audience questions, the panelists detailed a comprehensive set of procedures and technologies that the school district has already implemented or is currently rolling out, including:

  • Coordination between the school district, city government, police, fire, state officials, and national officials, including methods for school officials to contact police.
  • Procedures for shelter-in-place, parental notification, dealing with troubled individuals, lockdowns, and visitor entry to schools.
  • Frequent drills for a wide variety of situations.
  • “Columbine locks” that teachers can operate from both inside and outside the classroom. These have been installed at elementary and middle schools, and are being installed now in the high schools.
  • Cooperative police-school programs, including School Resource Officers, “Stop the Bleed” mass casualty training, “Cops and Kids,” “Run-Hide-Fight,” and “The Mirror Project.”
A good turnout for the district’s school safety forum. Photo/Laura Aronson

“We want to continue to keep the information flowing, provide a sense of contact, and keep everyone in the schools safe. Everyone here has a love for the children,” Mayor Joyce Craig said at the forum’s conclusion.

Joseph Foden attended with his daughters, Olivia, 7, and Isabel, 8, who both attend Webster Elementary school.

“I feel better off now. Everybody’s involved and they have locked doors. I feel safer about my children going to school,” Foden said.

Lisa Hanel, a paraprofessional in the schools, was impressed by the turnout of city officials.

“I thought there would be four people here, but there were fourteen! It’s incredible to know there are a lot people keeping the children safe,” Hanel said.

Mayor Joyce Craig has some face time with Isabel Foden, 8, and Olivia Foden, 7, as their dad, Joe Foden, looks on. Photo/Laura Aronson

Steve Mandeville, a former firefighter and now an Environmental Safety Manager for the State Department of Transportation, has four children who have attended city schools gave the presentation a thumbs up.

“The meeting was very good. They tried to make people understand and limited tensions. This is a hard sell because in safety, the risks are unpredictable,” Mandeville said. “But they are well prepared. I get frequent communications from West High School.”

Panelists included:

  • Michael Abruzese, Manchester Police Department
  • Phil Alexakos, Chief of Environmental Health and Emergency Preparedness, Manchester Health Department
  • Rocco Caparello, Supervisor, Manchester American Medical Response (AMR)
  • Mayor Joyce Craig
  • Brett French, Manchester Fire Department
  • Jennifer Gillis, Principal, Southside Middle School, Manchester School District (MSD)
  • Fire Chief Daniel Goonan
  • Kevin Healey, Emergency Management Director, Elliott Hospital
  • Kevin Kincaid, Security Manager, City of Manchester
  • Matt Larochelle, Manchester Police
  • Officer Nate Linstad, Manchester Police
  • Brian O’Keefe, Manchester Police
  • Bolgen Vargas, Superintendent of Schools