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Erardi Reports On Mental Health, Security Issues To State Board



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Following a presentation to the State Board of Education early last month, Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, said on Wednesday, January 27, that part of his role is to "develop best practice" with regard to mental health, safety, and security of the district.

In that capacity, Newtown Federation of Teachers President Tom Kuroski, district Director of Security Mark Pompano, and Dr Erardi spoke before the state school board with a packet of documents on January 6.

One was an "executive summary synthesis," Dr Erardi explained this week, of the Office of the Child Advocate of the State of Connecticut 2014 report on the 12/14 shooter along with a "best practice" report created with input from 15 school leaders through the Association of Public School Superintendents on student mental health.

Dr Erardi said the "best practice" report is about realigning resources and creating community partnership and mental health priorities. That document, the superintendent said, is being reviewed by the state department, "and, hopefully, rolled out to all Connecticut districts in the very near future."

"This is not about additional money," the superintendent told the state board. "It's about reallocating resources and recognizing and taking responsibility for social/emotional learning and mental health issues."

The second document, Dr Erardi said, was a "safety piece," put together with input from safety leaders from around the country.

"We put together what I thought was an absolute dynamic document for risk assessment protocol," said Dr Erardi.

For example, when a student is acting in a way that needs attention, Dr Erardi said a litany of questions could be used to assess risk to others.

"We're hoping that article has the same type of fidelity to be rolled out across the state of Connecticut," said Dr Erardi.

The third presentation, Dr Erardi said, was a document prepared by Mr Pompano describing his role in the district. Dr Erardi said the district safety and security committee meets often and works with local safety officials.

"I think the reassurance to the community in regard to this work is that it is never-ending," Dr Erardi said. "It is one percentage point at a time moving forward to a safety plan… We will never cross the finish line. Nobody will. And the only time that I get worried about school safety and security is when we are not talking about safety and security."

When before the state school board on January 6, Dr Erardi said he believes it is important for Newtown schools to report to the state board, as the third anniversary of the tragedy was recently marked.

"I don't want anyone to believe around the dais that Newtown has rebuilt. We have not," he said. "I do want folks to take away from this presentation that there is courage, there is extraordinary resilience in the direction that Newtown schools has gone, that each one of you would be extraordinarily proud of where we are today."

The road to recovery for Newtown, Mr Kuroski said, is being built for the first time.

One goal of Newtown's educational community, Mr Kuroski told the state board, is to record accomplishments in the district since the tragedy in areas of safety and security.

"We hope to take what we have learned and create our own roadmap for others to follow who might face similar tragedy or possibly prevent one," Mr Kuroski said.

Research conducted by the district has included best practices in the areas of risk assessment, event prevention, districtwide preparedness, and "building hardening," Mr Kuroski said.

The district, Mr Kuroski said, will continue to need assistance from the state officials as it meets new challenges resulting from 12/14. As an example, Mr Kuroski said the youngest grade levels at Sandy Hook Elementary School at the time of the tragedy will face emotional, social, and educational challenges "that have never been faced by a group before" when they enter the new school building in the fall.

When he spoke before the State Board of Education, Mr Pompano said he believes planning is the most important aspect of a comprehensive safety and security school district program.

"We believe Newtown's procedures represent best practices," said Mr Pompano, "and was a culmination of a two-year collaborative effort"

School safety and security is in "constant change" all the time, Mr Pompano said.

"We in Newtown live by the mantra 'quality through continuous improvement.' This is our guiding principle," said Mr Pompano, "and it is what we intend to do moving forward to keep our students and staff safe."

Before closing the presentation to the state board, Dr Erardi said the new Sandy Hook School building project is on time and within budget.

"The school will reopen for the 2016-17 school year. We have been blessed with the neighbor of Monroe, Connecticut, who has housed our Sandy Hook School for the last three years."

This week, Dr Erardi said the goal and objective is to have the absolute safest and secure school district in the country.

"We are doing everything we can create an environment that is optimal for student teaching and learning," said Dr Erardi, "and in Newtown that has to be a safe and secure environment with opportunities for all students to meet with staff when need be for their own personal recovery."

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