Superintendent: School safety is district’s ‘highest priority’

Superintendent Kevin Smith sent out the following letter to parents, guardians and caregivers on Thursday, Feb. 22:

The senseless tragedy in Florida naturally raises questions about student safety and well-being in the Wilton Public Schools. The following overview is meant to assure you that student safety is our highest priority, and to share with you information about ongoing efforts to ensure the safety, security and well-being of students across the entire district.

Partnership with first responders

For many years, we have benefitted from a very strong relationship with our first responders, including our police, fire and EMS. Working together, we have developed several initiatives that direct our security measures. These initiatives include:

  • Building-specific safety protocols in the event a crisis should occur at any one of our schools. These protocols are reviewed routinely to promote coordination and consistency.
  • A District Emergency Operations Planning Team, which consists of school staff as well as first responders. The team meets regularly to review existing procedures, develop new procedures, and ensure readiness. Two members of our district team have received NOVA’s 24-hour Basic Crisis Training, offered through the internationally-recognized National Organization for Victim Assistance.
  • Emergency Operations Teams are in place at each school to tailor district team procedures to each respective school.
  • Our district’s safe school climate coordinator [Kim Zemo] serves on a regional crisis team that offers extensive professional development opportunities as well as a network of broader community resources should a crisis occur.

As you know, our facilities are locked and visitor access is controlled. Two Wilton police officers serve as full-time School Resource Officers and participate daily in the lives of our schools.

Campus supervisors at our middle and high school assist with student supervision and campus oversight.

Through the efforts of the Wilton Security Taskforce, funds were dedicated to hardening the perimeters of our schools, enhancing emergency communications, and expanding camera coverage.

Minimizing risks within our school community

We recognize that threats to student safety may come from within our school community. Major research suggests that those most at risk for violence are students who may be alienated, disconnected or marginalized from the school community.

As such, it is our intention to ensure that every child feels connected to at least one adult in his/her building.

One way we are accomplishing this is through a survey tool developed for middle school and high school students and staff to identify connections.  Qualified school personnel will intervene should a student fail to identify a staff member with whom they feel connected.

This student connectivity initiative is part of our larger school climate efforts. You may be aware that we have identified having a safe, positive school climate and student connectedness as primary strategic objectives.

We are currently in our fourth year of collaboration with The Center for School Climate and Learning. Among other things, our work has focused on developing a student-led process intended to empower students to identify and respond to climate concerns.

Other programmatic efforts designed to promote connectedness and engagement include:

  • Link Crew high school transition program (grade 8-9). Research tells us that transition years are times when students may be most at risk. Plans are in place to bring this program to Middlebrook in the 2018-2019 school year.
  • “How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk” parenting series. This program helps parents and children enhance communication as well as build relationships with parents and school staff.
  • Student Wellness Survey at Wilton High School by Dr. Suniya Luthar, in collaboration with Wilton Youth Council, to better understand the needs of our adolescents and promote positive youth development. Results to be shared March 5.
  • District attendance committee formed to review attendance policy, procedures and data as this can be an early indication tool for students “at risk.”
  • Social Emotional Learning Committee in process of reviewing programs that may be a fit for Wilton.
  • Installation of Gaggle student safety management program, which monitors students’ district G Suite accounts for words, terms or images that may be of concern.

We also know that early identification for prevention and intervention is integral to supporting students who may be at risk. Staff training initiatives to support these efforts include:

  • Mental health staff across the district are trained to recognize the signs of students who may be at risk for harming themselves or others.
  • All district staff participate in an annual Safe School Climate Training developed by the safe school climate coordinator.
  • This year certified staff in grades 6-12 participated in training on the topics of substance abuse prevention and suicide prevention and intervention protocols.

As you can see, we have many initiatives in place across many fronts. We appreciate your ongoing support of our efforts to maximize student safety and well-being, and ask you to continue to monitor your children’s access to the news and social media.

Students who may exhibit any extreme or unusual reaction to last week’s shooting are encouraged to meet with school mental health staff.

Please be reminded that vigilance and communication are the most valuable security assets that every student, staff member, and parent can exercise in keeping our schools and community safe. Everyone is encouraged to report anything that causes any discomfort or concern in school or out in the community.

Anyone who sees or hears anything that causes a safety concern is urged to contact the school’s principal, administrator, safe school climate coordinator, school counselor or other staff member.