School District 834 plans to improve safety

During the Oct. 10 board meeting, staff from Stillwater Area Schools laid out the district’s plans to increase safety and security.

Jim Gillach, assistant principal of Oak-Land Junior High, along with Paul Lee, director of student support services, and Denny Bloom, director of operations, shared information about how the district’s Bridge to Excellence plan should make students safer.

The plan calls for research and development of a districtwide anti-bullying program to support students. Although the district already has an anti-bullying policy, the new program would train students how to stop bullying as a victim or perpetrator. Staff would also receive training.

In addition, the district intends to implement a behavioral intervention program to hold students accountable. Whatever program the district adopts would aim to provide consistency accross sites and would focus on positive growth and developement.

Another aspect of the plan to create a safe and welcoming environement by supporting students with mental illness. According to district staff reports, the lastest research shows that 13 percent of youth age 8-15 live with a mental illness severe enough to cause serious impairment in their day-to-day lives, but only about 20 percent of those students are identified and receive appropriate services.

Mental illness can interfere with learning, social and emotional development.

The Bridge to Excellence plan calls for the district to invest in screening and early identification of mental health needs in order to connect students with needed services as soon as possible. School-based mental health supports are planned to help provide early relief from symptoms and avoid serous long-term problems.

A third part of the safety and security plan calls for upgrading the design of school entrances. Several sites would have remodeled entrances, and new entrances would be built at Andersen and Oak Park Elementary. The goal would be to better control access of visitors to classroom  areas.

Rutherford and Stonebridge are open concept schools, which have few doors and many open spaces. At those schools the district would develop secure refuge areas with locking doors.

Plans also call for installing buttons to alert police of emergencies and video intercom systems to control who enters the buildings.

Staff cautioned that some of these improvements will only be possible if the levy on the ballot is approved in November. About 3 percent of the levy funds would go toward the safety and security portion of the plan. Without those funds, the district would not expect to be able to do the constructions projects. Some of the anti-bullying and mental health initiatives may still happen, but might take longer and be dependent on grants or cuts in other areas, district staff said.