Dear Newton Community,
I write to you with great sadness as our nation faces yet another tragedy in our school buildings. Our hearts go out to our fellow educators and all the students and families in Parkland, Florida. It is incomprehensible that these tragedies continue to occur and an important reminder that we must be prepared.
The Newton Public Schools have many systems in place to ensure that our schools are safe. Research demonstrates that some of the most important safety work we do is the support of the social and emotional health of our students. We know that it is most important for students to feel connected to their school community and supported by their peers, teachers, and other trusted adults. When we create connections and support, faculty and staff can more effectively address student needs or concerns when they arise. Some of the social and emotional initiatives we have in place include:
- Signs of Suicide (SOS) curriculum and screenings of 7th, 9th, and 11th grade students
- School connectedness surveys now conducted regularly at all levels
- Responsive school/home and other social/emotional support programs
- Anti-bullying programs and reporting system
- Mental health professionals, including psychologists, counselors, or social workers in all buildings
- Close partnerships with City of Newton Health and Human Services department and outside agencies
In addition to the social and emotional efforts, we do have robust safety and security systems and protocols in place to create secure buildings. We work very closely with our city partners on prevention, preparedness and response to a wide range of scenarios. In addition, we are currently working with an outside security expert to revise all our emergency protocols, which are aligned with current best practices in school safety and Massachusetts state guidelines. We expect these new protocols to be finalized this spring and implemented next fall.
The following is a list of some (not all) of the current systems we have in place in our district and our schools:
- District-wide safety team that meets regularly to review, assess, and modify safety and crisis response protocols and procedures. The team is comprised of district, mental health, fire, police, and health department personnel
- Building-based crisis teams focused on crisis prevention, preparedness and response at the school level
- Close partnership with police and fire departments to ensure rapid and coordinated emergency response
- Regular practice of emergency procedures, including lockdowns and shelter-in-place protocols
- Emergency radios in all schools with direct connection to first responders
In light of the Florida tragedy, all of our district and building-based teams will be thoroughly reviewing safety procedures at their next meeting. In addition, Newton North and Newton South are identifying ways in which they can make security enhancements. We engage in this work knowing that these buildings were designed to be open campus environments in accordance with our educational philosophy. In doing so, we will be looking at procedures used at our neighboring high schools that also maintain an open campus.
We will continue to be vigilant in implementing our social and emotional support programs as well as reviewing and modifying our safety and security procedures and protocols. It is important that we partner with you in this endeavor and ask that if you see anything that is a safety concern, please do not hesitate to contact a teacher, counselor, or administrator.
Thank you for your understanding and support during these troubling times.