by Thaddeus Flint
A discussion on communication during emergencies at the Berlin School Board meeting on Wednesday May 17, found Board members trying to come to grips with just how much information might be too much.[private]
“It’s a struggle,” agreed Questar III Health and Safety Director Craig Hansen, who had come to update the Board on crisis communication. “But you aren’t the only District struggling with it.”
The struggle is a delicate balance between letting parents and the community know what’s going on when some kind of crisis hits, while at the same time not disseminating information too quickly that might even make an emergency situation worse.
“You need to have a safe scene before you start disseminating information,” said Hansen. And what the District chooses to disseminate must be properly vetted. However, if a school doesn’t put accurate information out in a timely manner, social media will quickly fill that void, often with incorrect information.
Hansen recommended that the District come up with a plan to acclimate the community to future emergencies so that residents know where to go for information and how often that information will be updated. If parents know that they will be getting updates every 30 minutes or so, they will be less likely to call the school—tying up phone lines that might be needed at the scene—or, even worse, drive down to the school and add to the possible chaos there.
Board President Frank Zwack wanted to go even further than that. He wanted to invite residents to a simulated active shooter scenario (the Rensselaer County Sheriff’s office conducts such simulation drills) at the school. This way parents could see that the District did have plans in place, drilled over and over, to deal with every parent’s worst nightmare.
“A lot of parents don’t understand what a lockdown is,” said Zwack. “So we would put them in a lockdown.”
The rest of the Board, and Hansen, however, were not so sure this was the best idea.
“That could be as harmful as it is helpful,” said Board member Kellie Kaschak, who added that it might give “inside information” to someone planning an attack.
High School/Middle School Principal Dr. Cathy Allain noted that the last few lockdowns were well received by parents because the District has already been doing a better job in communicating with parents.
“It must be,” said Kaschak, “because we don’t have any parents down here screaming at us.”
Screaming or otherwise, parents in the District rarely come down to Board meetings and this one was no different. Residents appear content to let the Board go about its business of running the District without much outside input. That complacency was further evidenced in the recent voter turnout. According to District Clerk Mary Grant, there were 331 voters who turned out for the recent budget and Board vote May 16. This in a District of five towns and around 6,800 residents.
The District’s Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Stephen Young, however, was not dismayed by those results. He instead saw the 76% approval rate of the 2017-2018 budget as a sign that parents in the District feel that their tax dollars are going to worthwhile programs run by competent educators.
“It goes to show we have come a long way,” said Dr. Young. “We are getting the recognition of the residents that we are doing things for the students with the overall goal of improving and raising student achievement.”
Three of those competent educators will be receiving tenure at a celebration on June 15. They are Elementary School Principal Tracy Kent, Science Teacher Brendan Scannell, and Math Teacher Nathan Ellis.
Another teacher in the District cited for the “raising of student achievement” was Social Studies Teacher Bill Fisher. According to Dr. Allain, Fisher was chosen by Class of 2017 Valedictorian Ioann Popov as the one teacher who was most influential to him over his school career. Fisher will be honored for his work at an upcoming CASDA (Capitol District School Development Association) awards ceremony.
Attendees of the recent Berlin Prom were themselves recognized by the District’s Director of Curriculum, Instruction, & Assessment, Fred Hutchinson who was a chaperone, for their good behavior at the dance.
Hutchinson said he had experience chaperoning proms at other school districts in the past. Some sounded more like an episode of The Wire than a high school dance, complete with weapons, drugs and fights.
Not so at Berlin.
“It was wonderful,” said Hutchinson.
With Prom over, graduation is right around the corner. The District is hoping to make the graduation ceremony a bit brighter this year with the installation of LED lights in the High School/Middle School gymnasium. The District’s Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds Cyril Grant is currently considering two proposals to upgrade the current lighting to LED, with the costs expected at around $17,000. Grant said that both contractors promised the installation could be completed by graduation on June 23.
The meeting’s consent agenda items, including Treasurer’s Reports, Personnel Action, Approval of Claims Audit, 2016-2017 Health Services Contracts, 2016-2017 Budget Transfers, 2017-2018 Transportation Requests to Non-Public Schools, 2017-2018 DCMO BOCES Cooperative Purchasing Service Bids, Appointment to Worker’s Compensation Consortium Board of Directors, and Transfer of Funds to Capital Reserves were voted on with all in favor (Board member Jeff Paine was absent) without any discussion of any of these topics whatsoever. [/private]