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by Jessica Brophy
In a public forum prior to its monthly meeting on Tuesday, January 8, the Brooklin School Board heard comments and concerns from community members and school staff about school safety.
The forum was held as a response, in part, to the December 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. There, an armed man broke into the school and killed 20 children and six adults before taking his own life.
Early conversation established that an incident like the one in Newtown was unlikely in Brooklin. It would be more likely for problems to arise relating to custody issues or with upset parents.
Community member Crocker Nevin asked whether it would be necessary to have a buzzer system in place for the front door.
Principal Halina Nawrot said she could see some circumstances in which a buzzer would be useful, but wasn’t convinced it was the way to go.
“I would rather, frankly, people use the front door,” said Nawrot, who said she and administrative assistant Louanne Higgins could then see anyone coming inside. One of the side doors, which is supposed to be locked during school hours, is often propped open or opened by those inside to allow someone in.
Superintendent Mark Jenkins said part of the problem would be retraining students not to open the door, even for people they know.
“When I first came to the school I had students who came up to me and wanted to talk to me who didn’t know who I was,” said Jenkins. “Students are polite and nice.” The goal, said Jenkins, is to retrain students (and staff and community members) without scaring them, and to help them understand it isn’t rude to ask those outside to use the front door.
Community member Aimee Claybaugh noted that while violence can come in from outside the school, sometimes violence can come from students who “feel their life doesn’t have meaning.”
Nawrot said the staff gives students “every opportunity to help students feel their self worth.”
Teacher Sharon Thoner said that along that measure, it might be worth attempting to reinstate the now-defunct Big Brothers/Big Sisters program or another mentoring program as a way to help students “feel connected to someone in a special way.”
School board member Frank Bianco said it is important that any changes be communicated to the public. “We want people to know what we’re doing,” he said. He also stressed the importance of drills and practice in the case of an emergency.
Jenkins said the issue of school safety would remain on the school board’s agenda for the next few meetings.
In other business, board chairman Mike Sealander asked the board to consider what, if anything, the board can do to address Brooklin’s demographics. Those demographics show, as with the state of Maine as a whole, a decreasing school enrollment.
“I wanted to see if there was consensus on the board to bring the issue as a board to the community,” said Sealander. He stressed that the school is in good shape, but that trying to address demographics could take 10 or 15 years to see results.
A few members of the board expressed concern over taking an active roll in a discussion not specifically tied to the school.
“Our job is to make the school as wonderful as possible,” said board member Jessica Grant.
“The town needs a strategic, long-term plan,” said board member Paige Morse. “There’s no low-income or affordable housing, and that’s a town issue. If the school is great, it can be part of the effort to recruit and market the town.”
The board will discuss the issue again in February.
Jenkins presented to the board a plan for the 2013-14 budget. While school enrollment is projected to drop from 57 students—perhaps by three students—Jenkins recommends a “one year hold” while long-term plans on potential staff reduction and program curtailments are made.
“There are so many possible things to consider,” said Jenkins. “We need to look at programming, look at staffing, look at where we need to be in five years. We need to ask, could we do the same with less?”
Jenkins projects a less than 3-percent budget increase for next year. The one-year hold would give Jenkins and Brooklin School staff and administration an opportunity to carefully and thoroughly evaluate the existing program. The board agreed it was a good plan.
In her principal’s report, Nawrot said illness swept through the school before and after break, with many students staying home. On the positive side, she said, the school is currently fielding three basketball teams.
The school board next meets on Tuesday, February 12, at 6 p.m. at the school.