Saturday December 22, 2012

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. -- Local schools in New York attempted to return to a sense of normalcy this week following the Dec. 14 Connecticut elementary school shooting, although they may have returned to a new norm.

State police stepped up their presence at schools across the state amid various threats Friday; the one-week anniversary of the mass shooting and also the winter solstice and end of the Mayan calendar cycle.

A previously scheduled lockdown drill was delayed this week at Hoosick Falls Central School, where state police were visible touring the halls and familiarizing themselves with the school building. A joint meeting at the school Tuesday brought administrators, community members, law enforcement, and first responders together to review emergency protocol.

The recent tragedy has also placed renewed emphasis on safety issues like room signage included in a potential future capital project at HFCS.

"Twenty-seven years into this, this is the toughest week I've had, in terms of looking at kids and seeing trepidation," Superintendent Kenneth Facin told school board members Thursday, following the shooting he called profoundly tragic. "We feel intimately connected to Newtown, Conn.," he said.

"The kids in the elementary were shaken."

Counselors were made more available at local schools including HFCS and Cambridge Central School for students and parents. Facin said state police had been very active over the course of the week, and that their visits would become weekly occurrences. He told board members the first rescheduled drill would be announced beforehand, and all substitute teachers would be brought in so they could go through the procedure with staff.

A follow-up meeting is set for next month to audit the next lockdown and make recommendations for improvement, similar to past drills. With the Hoosick Falls school campus outside the village police jurisdiction, Facin said there was "renewed communication" between state police, the sheriff's department, and local authorities regarding how those agencies respond.

"We want to reassure our parents and students. ... Schools continue to be safe places," Facin said Friday.

"We have a very alert staff ... We have sound safety plans -- we practice those. And we have done some great security measures already and we know we can build on those," he told the school board Thursday. Facin said troopers were impressed with the school's sign-in system, which requires all visitors to enter through the main office and check in as guests. The school has made some minor adjustments this week, including how quickly the front entrance is locked after the beginning of the school day.

"Unfortunately," said board President Greg Laurin, "tragedy made everyone come to that meeting." Laurin said Tuesday's visitors, unfamiliar with the school building, had illustrated the problematic signage inside the school. "Everyone was getting lost. ... No one knew where to go."

A facility needs survey at HFCS previously identified signage and room renumbering as a needed safety and security improvement. While the expense has been rolled into a planned future capital project, board members broached the possibility this week of more secure, "bullet proof" glass in some areas. While Laurin said a safety committee would explore its options, "we can't make a bomb shelter, either," he said.

Board member Laurie Gormley said in the interim since the board last discussed the project, cost had become less of an issue. "People are going to get it," she said, after the tragedy that was "beyond the scope" of understanding.

"It's not the same dialogue that we had a couple weeks ago."

In neighboring Cambridge following similar recommendations, the central school building received a new more logical numbering system through the summer of 2011. But while visitors during the school day must be buzzed in at CCS, they currently enter into the school hallway before turning to an office. A monitored secure entrance is part of the school's current $8 million capital project.

Schools nationwide participated in a moment of silence Friday morning out of respect to the Newtown shooting victims.

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