Beefed-up security will greet students for first day of classes next week
More than 18,000 students ready to return; system beefs up security with more sheriff’s deputies on duty
Almost 18,200 students will start a new school year next Tuesday, Sept. 4, and can expect more security measures in place and new teachers to meet.
Jeff Maher, St. Mary’s public schools’ chief strategic officer, said at Wednesday’s school board meeting that there are now more than 120 new hires this year.
Twenty-five of them are graduates of St. Mary’s public schools, he said, and another 60 teachers transferred among local schools and about 70 employees were hired for non-teaching positions.
Some of the improvements at schools include installing a new security vestibule at Great Mills High School; expanding the track at Chopticon High School from six lanes to eight; moving a relocatable classroom trailer to Fairlead Academy II behind Leonardtown High School; installing a new playground at Lexington Park Elementary School; and placing new desks and chairs for students and teachers at Park Hall Elementary.
The Superintendent’s Student Leadership Advisory Council will continue its work this year, led by new student board member Laik Meadows. An advisory group for staff has also been formed to help educate the school board and administration about issues.
“As we prepared to open the doors next week,” more information about registering new students, classroom supplies lists, lunch menus and other information is available online this year, Maher said. He said the student code of conduct and handbook can also now be viewed on mobile devices.
Mary Washington, school board member, said “We’re going to open on time … the grass is cut. We’re ready.”
She said it’s important that teachers and staff “share their stories” with students, because the children will “be more engaged in the learning process.” This year, the school community is encouraged to connect with others and improve how they communicate with others.
Great Mills 10th-grader Esmeilyn Alvarez Rodas, who was at the Fairlead Academy open house on Wednesday, said she was looking forward to going back to her English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL, classes with teacher Grace Baker.
Baker, who was chaperoning Alvarez Rodas at the open house, said she is excited to return to work and help students. She said she teaches at five schools in the county.
Madison Webb, Fairlead Academy biology and earth science teacher, said this is her first year teaching. She said she was a long-term substitute teacher at Great Mills last year. Webb said the career “is all new to me,” but she has “plenty of energy” to work with students.
Sheriff Tim Cameron (R) in a release said there will be a deputy at every St. Mary’s public school site when students return to school next week.
Deputies will “continue a high-visibility presence for the rest of the school year … to ensure a safe and secure learning environment,” according to Cameron.
Deputies are also involved in a “safety and security overtime” initiative to increase patrols at public and private St. Mary’s schools, the release states.
Catholic school students across the county returned to school on Wednesday, and students at the Chesapeake Public Charter School started their school year back on Aug. 15.
Deputies will also continue to visit schools through the “Adopt a School” program, a partnership between the sheriff’s office and the public schools where officers will visit their adopted elementary school and help “with school security concerns, mentoring of students and school emergency response planning,” according to the release.
Five school resource officers will continue to monitor and teach the DARE program at secondary schools. One deputy is assigned at each of the three high schools and two deputies will split their time between the four middle schools.
“The safety of students and children in St. Mary’s County is my first priority,” Cameron said in the release. Deputies are “conducting an all-out effort to make sure that students returning to classes feel safe on their first day of school.”
The increased security measures come after a shooting at Great Mills on March 20 when a student shot and killed another student before shooting and killing himself. Another student was injured.
While it’s not yet possible to assign a deputy to each public school “for a prolonged period,” Cameron said he wanted school communities “to feel confident that their schools are a safe and secure environment to learn in” throughout the academic year.
Cameron stressed in the release that parents should encourage their children to not “bring any contraband items to school.”