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Digital Learning Day 2018 has come and gone in Roxbury. Schools took part in the day back on February 22nd. Digital Learning Day is a celebration of educational technology and gives students an opportunity to expand the use of technology in the classroom by learning something new.

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The Roxbury Board of Education held a joint meeting with the Roxbury Town Council and the Roxbury Board of Education on Monday, March 5th in the Roxbury High School Auditorium at 1 Bryant Drive in Succasunna. The purpose of the joint meeting was to provide a district security presentation with Roxbury School’s Director of Security, James Simonetti and Roxbury Chief of Police, Marc Palanchi.

See Something, Say Something

The meeting began with the pledge of allegiance and a moment of silence in memory of those lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and for all those students and educators who have been victims of violence.

This joint security presentation was in part due to this tragedy on February 14th in Parkland, Florida. The Roxbury Town Council and Board of Education wanted to share with the community what is being done in Roxbury Township to keep its students, staff, and community members safe. This joint forum afforded the public the chance to see and hear the partnership between the two groups as both work towards a healthy and safe school environment for all where learning can be the focus for the students.

Simonetti began sharing that he was a police officer for over 30 years and had never seen these two groups come together for a joint meeting, which spoke to the seriousness of the conversation. Members of the Roxbury Police, Fire, and EMT were present to show their support for what is being done in the township and in the schools. Simonetti thanked them for that support as these individuals are the first responders when a crisis occurs.

For Roxbury’s efforts in addressing school security, it was recently ranked as 17 in the top 200 safest school districts in New Jersey according to Niche.com.

As the director of security, Simonetti works side by side with the Roxbury Chief of Police as part of a greater team approach based on communication. Simonetti emphasized throughout the presentation, the district and township’s philosophy of “if you see something say something.”

“We need to work to teach our students to say something if they see something. Teach them to be aware, but not afraid and allow them to be children and to know that the adults in this district strive to keep them safe and protected.”

To that end, the district’s goal is to create a safe, economically viable, friendly atmosphere for students, staff, and community members to be equipped to inspire all learners to achieve their potential. As part of Roxbury school’s safety and security initiative, it focuses on a number of areas including communication, partnerships, protocols, training, technology, and structural updates.

“Communication is key. We need to talk to each other. This dialogue must take place with students, staff, parents, district administrators, township officials, first responders, and community members. Research indicates the need for an increased focus on teaching empathy. Roxbury’s School counselors and staff are dedicated to introducing and fostering programs that build social and emotional skills, develop character, and encourage compassion beginning at the lowest grade levels up through high school.”

Over the past year, Roxbury Schools have seen structural updates and will continue to do so in the coming year. These updates include physical changes, upgraded entrance protocols, and enhanced information systems, all of which allows the district to control and manage access into the schools. The district worked to address this issue from multiple perspectives beginning with the installation of security vestibules. As of right now, these vestibules have been installed at Roxbury High School, Eisenhower Middle School, and Lincoln/Roosevelt Elementary School. The vestibules will be installed in the remaining four elementary schools by September 2018. “Installing these vestibules is the first step in securing our buildings. It identifies individuals and their intentions before entering the building during school hours.”

In addition, Roxbury High School is currently test piloting a new visitor management system called Lobbyguard, which will be rolled out to the other schools in the coming months. This system allows the district to run instant background checks on visitors based on Driver’s Licenses scanned into the system. This national database scans for restraining orders, Megan’s Law offenders, or restricted access to individuals. This system will help track visitor attendance and provide the faculty member with the purpose of the visit prior to letting someone in the building. With this system, the district will have the ability to upload names for those individuals flagged as not being allowed in the building.

All year Simonetti has been working with the individual schools to “stop the prop”. This campaign is to create a greater faculty, student, and public awareness that doors should not be propped or held open for any reason. The visitor entry system must be used. If an individual does not have the proper school identification, they should not be allowed access to the building without going to the visitor entrance.

As part of the structural upgrade, the district has also enhanced its technology systems to focus on increasing communication. This is done with security camera upgrades. Old analog cameras are being replaced with digital ones which allow for better picture quality, an improved retention period of historical data, and allows the police to log into the system in case of emergency using real time.

As part of enhancing communication, the district is setting up InformaCast which taps into the districts clocks, speakers, and smart devices in each classroom and building. The clocks have the ability to flash lights and scroll messages to keep individuals informed in case of an emergency. This system also allows for 911 calls and alerts to be made in each classroom. “In case of an emergency, you don’t need to call the main office. You can call 911 directly to the 911 call center.” Five of the seven schools have this completed and the remaining schools will be completed by the beginning of the 2018/2019 school year.

In an effort to increase communication with all necessary stakeholders, Simonetti has been working with Teresa Rehman, the district’s technology coordinator and her department along with the Roxbury Police Department in creating collaborative response graphics which combine Ariel images and standard floor plans to create complete visual plans viewable on smartphones with critical features and escape routes labeled. These graphics allow first responders to respond to specific locations in the building without knowing anything about the location. This technology was developed to be used in Iraq and is now being used by SWAT teams. Simonetti anticipates all Roxbury schools will be completed prior to the start of the 2018/2019 school year.

Although the physical upgrades are needed, the mindset also needed updating. To that end, the district endorsed the A.L.i.C.E. approach to security in the 2016/2017 school year. A.L.i.C.E. stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate. The district staff, paraprofessionals, substitutes, and new teachers are trained in A.L.i.C.E. and emergency procedures each year through in-service trainings and drills. The New Jersey Department of Education guidelines requires schools hold two drills a month, one fire drill and one security drill. These drills are conducted through demonstration and explanation for students and staff.

“Principal Dominick Miller has taken these drills to the next level with his students by asking them to critique their own actions in the drills via student surveys to see how they feel about the drills, ask questions they still have, and areas they feel can be improved on. The students were upset with themselves for not taking A.L.i.C.E. seriously. He explained to them that it’s a coping mechanism to joke around and make fun of things when you’re uncomfortable but he made it a teaching moment and his kids responded incredibly. He put them all in a room and I got to see and watch them discuss it, talk about it, break it down. It was great to see that it’s at that lower level school. That they’re grasping the procedures and understanding what they need to do. It’s not spoon-feeding them. He’s making them think what would they do.”

Roxbury schools security protocol include having designated security teams in place at each school as well as having Emergency Management and Crisis Invention Plans. These confidential plans are reviewed annually and are provided to faculty and staff to know how to react to various crisis situations.

The district is establishing protocols to be used in reporting and resolving situations and conflicts as part of this, it establishes an awareness among students, faculty, and staff on how to report information of incidents that lead to school violence. “We need to promote consistent reporting and remove the barriers of fear of telling someone of a crisis. We need to remove the fears that your children are snitching or tattling. We’ve got to work on that.” When reports are made they are to be reviewed by the professionals to determine the validity of the complaint and best actions to be taken. “We have staff that are trained to review these threats.” Communication is to be shared with all stakeholders, counselors, principals, security, and law enforcement when applicable. “We need to have this communication ongoing.”

In an effort to strengthen communication and collaboration between stakeholders and partners, the director of security meets weekly with the Roxbury Chief of Police to talk about needs, issues, and mutual items of awareness. “The Chief of Police is not happy with the status quo. There’s always room for improvement.” The district keeps an open dialogue going with the Emergency Management Coordinator and Fire Chief to evaluate planned responses and preparedness for emergency and crisis situations.

In addition, the district holds table-top exercises with first responders, school administrators, and stakeholders as well as continuing to work and hold discussions with town council members to safeguard students and so everyone knows their role in case of an emergency. An example of this collaboration is the removing of voting from the Roxbury Schools. A committee has been formed to investigate this feasibility and the district and town are working together towards this goal. Unfortunately, this is not a town or school district decision. Ultimately, the decision comes from the County Clerk’s Office.

The district’s ultimate goal though, is to create a healthy and safe school environment by controlling access to the schools, allowing parents access to the schools but with more structure and accountability through a visitor management system, evaluating and critiquing drill protocols to critical incidents like fire, intruders, and environmental conditions, prevention by promoting reporting and awareness of crisis situations, and continuing a strong bond with our law enforcement, first responder partners, and stakeholders in the community.

The second half of the security presentation was presented by Roxbury Chief of Police Marc Palanchi. He began by sharing that much of the information was proprietary and would only be shared with members of the town council and board of education. From the police side, they look at this issue from two different angles, preventative and response.

He explained, “The most critical thing we can do is share information about potential threats to your schools whether it is a building issue or more importantly a person issue. Not everything these kids do in school gets back to us because it doesn’t rise to a level of police involvement and not everything these kids do at home gets back to school as it’s not a school issue. This information needs to be exchanged back and forth. When we identify a potential threat, you have staff here that can determine to air on the side of caution and determine if that threat is legitimate and if it needs to be followed up by us. We have to identify and vet the issues to determine if the threat is real.”

The schools and police department in Roxbury have been communicating back and forth for decades which needs to continue and expand.

“We need to help teachers understand what they’re looking for. The see something say something is fantastic but you have to know what you’re seeing in order to say it. We’re working on this to get this point across in A.L.i.C.E. drills and training sessions to help teachers understand what they’re looking for. Sometimes it may not be so obvious but it’s a sign.”

Adding, “This goes for the kids as well. You have 1500 plus eyes and students in the schools, those kids see and know everything and they spread it very quickly with their phones and it gets around so we need to use those kids to help us with information sharing and tip us and point some things out so we can take it from there. So using a kid’s information is vital to us for sharing information, vetting it out, and making sure we’re on top of anything that’s a potential threat.”

Palanchi went on to share what the Police Department has been doing for years such as randomly following buses and coming into the schools.

“It’s the unpredictable police presence and a deterrent. We do random walkthroughs of the buildings. Every school is in a sector and patrolmen walks through the schools unannounced at different times and that has a lot of value. It gives police a chance to walk through the schools and create a mental blue print in case they have to respond to that school, it’s not the first time they’re seeing it. It also lets the teachers, administrators, and the kids see the officer in a non-critical instance. It’s a casual greeting and exchange. It shows the kids we’re approachable when an incident happens. It’s not the first time they see us or have dealt with us. They’re comfortable in dealing with the police because they’ve been doing it in these non-threatening ways.”

“It lets kids and people know that the police just show up at the schools. They have no idea when they come or how many. It’s random. We just pull up and park the car. The random unknown takes away the predictiveness of when we’ll show up. It’s a deterrent.”

Roxbury Police Department like so many other departments across the country have been trained for an incident like this since 1999 when Columbine happened.

Palanchi explained, “It changed the game. It allowed law enforcement to realize the way we’re responding to these things was outdated and ineffective. Since ’99, our viewpoint has changed continuously as these events occur.”

Roxbury Town Council continuously supports the Roxbury Police Department with any ongoing trainings. This training is with federal partners, secret service, FBI, etc. Individuals trained outside of Roxbury, come back and turnkey the information to the other 43 members of the police department. “We go anywhere to learn, to get better, to prepare, to have an understanding of what’s going to be required of us and what has failed in the past.”

“I can tell you with the utmost confidence, I live in this town, I grew up in this town, I have four kids in the schools and my wife is a teacher here, when one of my officers shows up at one of the schools, he or she has all of the training they can possibly have in them to that point and they have all of the equipment that is necessary for them to enter that building and end that situation as quickly as possible. I will assure you that five of my family, is going through your school system and I am 100% confident and I have never hesitated a day to having my kids and wife go to these schools 180 days a year. I can promise you, if one of my officers shows up to an incident, they will go in, and they will take care it. It’s what we are trained to do. Do we know everything, absolutely not but I can tell you this, we are training our officers as much as we can with the time and the resources that we have to train them. We are giving you the best product we can give.”

Following both Simonetti and Palanchi’s presentation, the town council and board opened the floor up for public comments from members of the audience regarding the security presentation. More than 15 parents and community members got up to share their thanks for the presentation as well as ask additional questions and shared concerns they had. Questions and concerns included but weren’t limited to parent input, training, and partnerships, the home and school component, additional security suggestions such as arming staff, putting in metal detectors, etc. as well as how these new procedures will affect after hour programs and events in the schools. Simonetti assured these individuals that the district is still working on security procedures and that it is an ongoing discussion. He encouraged everyone that if they have specific questions as it relates to their children’s school, that they should reach out to the teacher, school counselor, principal, administration, or himself for further clarification.

Superintendent Radulic echoed that response sharing that each Roxbury school has a school counselor and resources that can be used if needed adding how the school counselors did a board presentation at the last meeting regarding many of these useful resources.

Students and families alike should reach out to the school counselors if there is ever a need or concern related to their child.

To view a copy of the Security Presentation by Jim Simonetti, please visit www.roxbury.org.

Following the presentation, individual reports were received.

-          Board President’s Comments – Leo Coakley offered his congratulations to the students and staff at Roxbury High School for their recent Seussical performance. He also shared that the Spanish Honor Society’s induction ceremony will be March 22nd and the next NJSBA workshop will be March 28th. He also gave a brief update regarding negotiations saying that the two groups met on February 26th with the mediator and their next meeting is scheduled for April 9th, emphasizing that this process takes time.

-          Superintendent’s Comments – Superintendent Loretta Radulic shared many kudos and upcoming events on things happening in the Roxbury Schools. Those items included:

o   Sharing that Seussical was wonderful!

o   Roxbury’s Gaelvision creation of a ‘Thank you to the Roxbury Transportation Department’ video. “To all the coaches, students, parents, wow! Love the message. You should check it out on YouTube if you haven’t already.”

o   Kudos to Brian Sferra, Marcie Cordero, Vasiliki Tsigas-Fotinis and Leonor Egusquiza for a successful Global Hi-5 with over 300 attendees!

o   Shout out to Helen Hollenbeck and her students for their work on a PSA about Domestic Violence. Students included were Adam Canfield, Megan Roddy, Leah Torsiella, Juan Medrano, Derrek Keyes, Dom Compano, Robert Heun. “Shout out to all of the administration that was there to support them as well!”

o   A special shout out and thank you to Chief Palanchi and Chief Keyes for their quick response to an elevator issue at Lincoln/Roosevelt.

  • Russ Pfister and his wife enjoy doing non-profit/charitable work for a variety of causes, with a major focus on animal abuse and neglect as well as cancer research. He asked that I passed along their recent endeavor which is the 2018 Ironman Boulder competition. More information is available in the District’s Virtual Backpack.
  • Shout out to Mrs. Maria Gallagher, one of our 4th-grade teachers at Franklin elementary school who received a wonderful compliment from a parent who shared specific ways that Mrs. Gallagher has worked to educate the whole child and create a positive classroom atmosphere. “I know many of our teachers do little things every day to support our students both socially and emotionally, and I truly appreciate it when a parent takes the time to recognize their efforts. It’s much easier to complain for some reason, and compliments often seem scarce though much deserved.  Kudos to Mrs. Gallagher.”
  • “A special shout out to John Baumann, Bill Passero and all of our Buildings and Grounds crew who worked many hours this weekend to ensure that we would be able to open today. Not only that - they also moved a teacher’s classroom prior to doing their work outside. This was above and beyond demonstrating the commitment, dedication, and consideration of our Buildings and Grounds department. In regards to the weather, when weather like this happens people are in their homes worrying about their families, while others are working, strategizing, gathering data, and making plans for our students and staff. I’d like to thank all of those who were on the phone with me over the weekend: Mr. Baumann, our Buildings and Grounds Director, Ms. Byrnes, our Transportation Director, Mrs. Lynch and Mrs. Ferrare, our elementary principals, Mr. Swanson, our HS principal, Mrs. Wilson, our BA, Mr. Simonetti, our Director of Safety and Security, Mr. Palanchi, our Police Chief, Mr. Shepherd, our Town Manager, and Mr. File from JCP & L.  We are out of snow days, and we have continued weather warnings ahead. As of this point, Franklin will continue to host Nixon students. I am very grateful and impressed by the teachers, bus drivers, students, parents, and of course, the principals of Nixon and Franklin elementary schools. If you saw the operations at Franklin this morning, you would think we did this all of the time.  The care our teachers took to make sure our students were safe entering the building. Our Guidance Counselors watched them as they entered, checking their expressions to make sure there was a smile, and they were comfortable. It was truly heartwarming. I’d also like to send a shout out to Mr. Steve Curtiss who shuttled our teachers from L/R to Franklin and for giving me a ride over as well. And my final shout out is to Rob Katz, our Bus Driver, who gave me a bus ride back home - to my office. Nixon has power and Roxbury High School is back up and running.”

After the presentation and public comments, the Board approved numerous resolutions under Finance, Education, Policies, and Personnel.

Highlights from each section are:

-          Finance – The Board approved 34 travel requests for staff to participate in continuing education workshops and programs in the coming months along with one request necessitated by student activities and sports travel that have unavoidable travel costs. The revised Board Retreat date of Wednesday, July 25th was approved along with various contracts. These contracts included IT professional services, managed print services, and transportation services. The Board also entered into a multi-year agreement with the Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority for the removal of trash and recyclables beginning July 1st as well as a shared cost payment with the township for use of the salt shed and salt usage. The Board approved a resolution to request service proposals for Insurance Risk Manager and Food Service Management Company. Authorizations for the submission of a new replacement roof at Nixon School too was approved and the district’s long-range facilities plan was amended to include this project. The Board also entered into a joint transportation agreement with the Mine Hill Board of Education and approved the disposal and sale of property for various technology components. The Assistant Superintendent was also appointed as the School Safety Specialist for the current and following school year. An addendum added to this section was for the approval of an emergency purchase of service and replacement of a transformer at the high school. This contract is to provide auxiliary generation of electrical service and to install a replacement of a damaged transformer due to the storm on March 2nd.

-          Education – The Board approved the Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB) Report for February 9th through March 1st.  In addition, the board approved 20 educational field trips, a new high school course entitled “Foundation Components of Athletic Training and Physical Training” for the next school year, along with various college option, senior option, and independent study projects for Roxbury High School students. The Board approved out-of-district placement/services for two students and the acceptance of a tuition student.

-          Policies – The board approved a dozen policies and regulations for first reading. These policies and regulations included Board Member Use of Social Networks, Military Leave, High School Transcripts, Student Tracking Devices, Educational Adequacy of Capital Projects, Lead Testing of Water in Schools, School District Security, Electronic Surveillance in School Buildings and on School Grounds, Bus Driver/Bus Aide Responsibility, Emergency School Bus Procedures, and Use of Electronic Signatures.

-          Personnel – The Board accepted six resignations for various positions including coaches, permanent teachers, an occupational therapist and English teacher. Two leaves of absences and a handful of appointments were also approved including a new Italian teacher at the high school for next year. In addition to those resolutions, the board approved mentoring, athletic volunteers and specialized consultants, substitutes, homebound instructors, and community school personnel.

To view all the resolutions from Monday night’s meeting along with past approved minutes, please visit https://www.roxbury.org/domain/43.

The next Board of Education meeting will be Monday, March 19, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. in the Lincoln/Roosevelt Auditorium. This meeting is open to the public.

 

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