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Salem school chief:Always working on security

December 18, 2012
Morning Journal News

SALEM - Salem schools keep doors locked when classes are in session, train cameras on entrances, practice lockdowns and review security measures with local police in an effort to keep students safe.

Superintendent Tom Bratten, though, said "you're not going to stop crazy. We have to control things that are in our control and do what we can with that."

That was the message he sent in a mass email to staff members in the aftermath of the tragic school shooting in Connecticut, noting there was no need for a meeting because everyone's senses were already heightened due to what happened last Friday.

The people of Newtown started the heartbreaking job of laying to rest the victims of the shooting rampage which left 20 children and six adults dead at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, including the principal, school psychologist and teachers who died trying to protect their students.

Salem Board of Education President Brad Myers called for a moment of silence at the beginning of the board meeting Monday to remember the victims of the terrible tragedy. A moment of silence was also held before the boys home basketball game Friday night to remember those victims and to remember Salem High School graduate Kimberly Court, who was recently shot to death in a Cleveland airport parking lot after arriving for her job as a Transportation Security Administration agent. A dance scheduled after the game was canceled.

Bratton said there have been more calls asking how to make it more difficult for people to gain access to the schools, in the wake of the school shooting, but his question was "who do you keep out?"

Parents, who are taxpayers, may be coming to pick up their child for a doctor's appointment, may be dropping off lunch for their child or coming for a meeting with a teacher. Schools are public buildings.

"Where do you draw the line?" he said.

In order to gain access to a Salem school, a visitor has to buzz an intercom at the main entrance and identify themselves to the person on the other end, who can see the visitor via video camera and decide whether to buzz them through the locked door after hearing the nature of their visit. Once inside, the person is supposed to report to the main office. During public events, such as basketball games or concerts, the doors closest to where the event is taking place are open for anyone to enter.

Before the beginning of every school year, school officials do a walk-through with police inside every school building and look for weaknesses and ways to improve security. The checklists of improvements for this year have been completed. Plans have been in place in case of a crisis and lockdown and those plans are reviewed, so teachers know what to do for any number of emergency scenarios.

The topic of school security comes up every time a school shooting occurs across the country, but Bratten said they don't wait for a tragedy to happen to get themselves prepared. They're prepared, but he pointed out that "human behavior and erratic people are too unpredictable."

He said when they started taking the teaching of morality and ethics out of the schools, schools became a more difficult place to manage.

In other business, board members saw a presentation by SHS teacher Will Klucinec about blizzard bags and how teachers have prepared lessons that are available online for students to continue working from home if the district goes over its allotted number of calamity days and school gets cancelled.

Teacher web pages, where the blizzard lessons can be found, are on the Salem school website at Just click on buildings, then look on the left side for teacher web pages.

SHS Principal Dr. Joe Shivers explained that teachers must have at least three lessons prepared in case the allowed number of snow days are exceeded. A hard copy of the lessons must be put together also, to give to students without computer or Internet access the first day classes are back in session. Those students then will have two weeks to get the work done.

Klucinec said teachers can use a variety of resources, including free online sites like Ted and Khan Academy. He said the teacher web pages are a great resource for both students and their parents.

Before going into executive session to prepare for, conduct or review negotiations or bargaining sessions with employees, with no action to be taken, the board approved a consent agenda which included the purchase of a new passenger school bus for $77,295 from Myers Equipment, the lowest bidder. Bratten said this was actually a bus they put off purchasing last year to do some work on the buildings. It will replace a bus. The fleet includes at least 16 buses, with 13 used for daily runs and the other three kept in reserve for emergencies if a bus needs repairs.

The board approved the following personnel moves: Mary Ann Manning as a classified substitute; Renee Ebert as substitute bus driver; Michael Brown, Molly Copacia, Briana Lorenzini and Gary Sell as substitute teachers; Brian D'Angelo, Cheryl Green, Eric Green and Gerald Zimmerman as volunteer ski club advisors; and Barbara Marple as a 2.5-hour cafeteria worker.

The board also approved family medical leave for junior high special education teacher Megan Ellis, the resignation of Southeast Elementary cafeteria worker Joyce Whitmore, the indefinite leave of absence for personal reasons for Rebecca Gallagher and the reappointment of Madeline Shives for a seven-year term, without compensation, as a trustee of the Salem Library board.

Mary Ann Greier can be reached at



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