As a community, we have been affected by the recent tragedy in Florida. Unfortunately, these types of incidents have been occurring too frequently. Although school safety and security are currently being discussed through the news and social media platforms, as well as in living rooms and offices, it is not a new topic to school districts. Administrators, teachers and board of education members address safety and security daily. The safety and security of our students is our number one priority every day. From securing our buildings to providing peanut free zones, school safety encompasses a multitude of areas that may not occur to the average parent of a school-age child. In order to offer our community a clearer picture of school safety and security for Hammonton Public Schools, I wanted to address several areas in our commitment to providing our students with a safe and healthy learning environment.

School safety and security begins long before a student or staff member enter our buildings. The Board of Education ensures that the District adopts policies and procedures consistent with state statutes, as well as recommendations from various organizations such as the Department of Education, New Jersey School Boards Association, FEMA, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to name a few. Once these policies have been adopted, school administration aligns procedures to enforce the policies and follow recommended best practices. Training is provided to staff during various times throughout the school year to explain proper protocols. Drills are completed monthly in order to commit our procedures to memory. Per statute, all schools are required to complete one fire drill and one security drill such as an active-shooter, lockdown, shelter-in-place, or emergency evacuation per month. As we complete each of these drills, data is collected from staff to evaluate the effectiveness of our training.

This past November, we were fortunate to undergo a security audit performed by the School Preparedness and Emergency Planning Division of the New Jersey Department of Education. An unplanned active shooter lock-down drill was observed and evaluated at our high school by these officials. This was done in collaboration with district administrators and local law enforcement. Several days following the drill, we received their report and earned high marks for our existing procedures, as well as suggestions for more efficient executions. For security reasons, our exact security plan cannot be shared with the public but the information gleaned from the visitation was shared with all building administrators for improved procedures.

Although drills and trainings are vital, they are only a small component of school safety and security. The safety of our students begins with drop-off and arrivals. Specific traffic patterns and times are diseminated for each building and must be followed to ensure that our student can safely enter and exit our buildings without worry of vehicular traffic. Adherence to no parking designated areas and traffic patterns is a necessity and must be followed to by all. In addition, the requirement of ID when picking up students may require extra time, but it is time well spent in terms of student safety.

Visitors to our buildings are monitored by our office personnel and must be “buzzed” in to enter. With the use of security cameras, we are able to monitor all doors throughout the buildings. We are also fortunate to have an SRO’s presence in all of our buildngs, as well as our Memorandum of Agreements with both Hammonton and Waterford Police Departments to share information. The Hammonton Police Department,through their officers, have formed meaningful relationships with staff and students and are vital to our overall security. Their familiarity with each building is a testament to their cooperation and coordination with school officials.

Unfortunately, we recently had an incident where a student made disturbing comments regarding school safety. Due to our established policies and procedures, law enforcement and appropriate personnel handled the situation effectively and efficiently. At no time were students in danger nor did the incident require any of our lockdown or shelter-in-place protocols. A robocall and website statement were issued to all parents to ensure the accurate disemination of information; however, we are aware that there were technical issues related to the robocall.

Although no community or school is immune from tragedy, we as a district are constantly reviewing and revising our policies to reflect the most accurate, acceptable practices and recognize that there are always areas for improvement. For example, our robocall system will also include a text message delivery. This will allow for less confusion when messages may not be received completely. Moving forward, next school year parents will be provided specific directions on designating appropriate contact information for emergeny statements. We are also looking at several upgrades to security cameras and front entrances, as well as additional security personnel. Meetings have taken place and have been scheduled to review current areas in need. As our Board of Education prepares a budget for the district for the 2018-2019, they are committed to making our schools safe for everyone.

As a District, we truly understand that parents, staff, students and community members are especially concerned given recent national events, but safety is not a new concern to our administration and staff. We are extremely fortunate to have administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, cafeteria personnel and bus drivers that follow safety protocols daily. Whether it be at drop-off or pick-up, in the classroom or playground, student safety always has been and always will be our number one priority. Just as it takes all of our school community to ensure safety, it also requires the Hammonton, Waterford and Folsom communities. We share in the responsibility of keeping our children safe by reporting any suspicious behavior. “See something. Hear something. Say something.” cannot be stressed enough and should be reinforced in all homes. Through our unified vigilance, we can make our schools safer for all.

Robin Chieco

Superintendent of Schools